15 Jan Györ: The right place for investors
Dr. András Csaba Dézsi, Mayor, City Of Györ, provides an insight into his ambitious vision for one of Hungary’s most dynamic cities
Celebrating its 750th anniversary this year and located on the northwest side of the country, Györ is one of Hungary’s most dynamically developing cities. How important is it as an economic, cultural, educational and sports center in Hungary, and what position does the city hold in the wider region?
Looking at the past 100 years, Györ has always been a strong industrial city. At the time of the political transition, Györ had 14 factories and was an industrially developed and economically stable city. It was also a significant sports center. Our location is ideal because it is placed along the riverside of four rivers and is within the Budapest, Vienna and Bratislava golden triangle. Therefore, road, railway and water traffic and transport of goods was ensured for the city. Our most important factory was the Raba Hungarian wagon and machine plant. Others included a metalwork tools factory, a lace-curtain factory, an oil factory, a biscuit factory and so on. During the political transition, most of them went into the hands of foreign investors. They closed down during the following years and many employees were fired, which generated significant unemployment, just as it did throughout the country. It had an existential effect on the city of Györ because we had to reinvent ourselves and make the city attractive again.
I have been member of the City Council of Györ since 1994 and lived through the process that led to the revival of the city. In the autumn of 1992, we created the Györ industrial park—an industrial hub on 36 hectares of land on the border of the city where companies could settle. The park will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year. Its capacity has increased over the years, so that now it covers around 210 hectares. The park hosts important companies such as Audi Hungaria, which has produced 35 million engines here since 1994, making it the biggest engine factory in the world. In 2020, it produced 1,662,000 engines, including 87,350 that were actually electric. At the moment, 12,000 employees are working at Audi. Apart from Audi, there are more than 100 companies from 13 countries in the industrial park. Altogether, approximately 120 companies work there with 7,000 employees.
The industrial park has been a major factor of development for Györ. Infrastructure has also developed alongside it: we have excellent road and railway connections. A port has also been built near Györ, in Gönyü, as well as an airport in Pér. Now, we have a full range of transport connections, by air, water and roads.
How is Györ positioned as an educational center?
Györ counts between 130,000 and 140,000 inhabitants. The companies established here in the city attract many employees; yet many people have moved to the nearby villages and, therefore, our population has remained quite stable, not increasing. It is important for our people who live or move here to get a good education.
Györ has about 41 educational institutions, including three bilingual secondary schools and also two bilingual grammar schools. Our secondary schools are among the best ones in the country and are highly ranked in Hungary. We also have some schools operated by the church or by some foundations. Grammar schools have a very good basis, enabling a good education for children to go to universities.
Györ is host to the Széchenyi István University, which has 13,000 students, including over 600 foreign students from 54 countries. It has more than 30 English-speaking programs and 200 partnerships with different foreign universities. The university has a strong strategy of internationalization that runs to 2030, in order to enhance the number of English-language programs and attract additional foreign students. The university also has a joint faculty with Audi Hungaria—the so-called Audi Hungaria Faculty of Automotive Engineering—with close to 150 graduate students emerging from this faculty every year.
Györ doesn’t only offer a good transportation system and beautiful surroundings, but it also offers a well-trained workforce, which is an important factor for the companies coming here. Most of our university graduates gain a working position when they receive their degrees. It is a practical education, and there is a close and continuous cooperation between Széchenyi István University and companies—not only Audi, but many others. We are considering their recommendations to create a new training program at the university, where the employees of these companies would participate in the education.
My dream is to have medical doctor training at the university as well. At the moment, there is only a healthcare and sports institution at the university, but I’m hoping to one day have medical doctor training as well.
Why are so many investors attracted to Györ?
Investors are attracted to the city because of its good geographic location, because of its skilled workforce but also because of our taxes, which are very advantageous. Our industrial tax is the lowest in Hungary at 1.6 percent, when the average in Hungary is 2 percent. Our building tax, which doesn’t depend on how much you produce, is also one of the lowest in Hungary. These are not the most important aspects, but they are still very important for settling down in Györ.
The best promotion for us is the presence of Audi. Not only is Audi present in the city but they are always developing. Audi doesn’t only have an assembly plant in the city, as it does in many places in Eastern Europe, it also has full-range vehicle production and even research and development in Györ, so that even the engines that are not produced in Györ were developed here. The best advertisement is always the best practice. When I was traveling all over the world and I saw an Audi TT, I was always happy to see it because I knew that it was produced in Györ.
We have a strong economy and strong education. For us, it is important that the people living in Györ work here. Yet the proximity of Vienna is a big challenge for us because the better-educated workforce may go to work there to seek higher salaries. One part of keeping a well-trained workforce is higher salaries, but also the environment and ensuring good healthcare, which are also very important. In Györ, we have the biggest hospital in the region. I am the mayor of the city, but also a medical doctor and head of the cardiology department at the hospital in Györ—so a politician and a doctor.
From a tourism standpoint, what are your plans to put the city on the map for domestic, incoming, regional and foreign visitors. How has tourism progressed in the past few years, and does Györ compete regionally?
Györ has a very beautiful downtown park, a beautiful castle and very good touristic attractions, as well as the riversides of the rivers crossing the city. Györ is a city to come to not only for one day, because here people can rest in such a natural environment, which is very rare nowadays. In 2019, we had more than 450,000 guest nights over the whole year. The tendency of continuous increase in the number of guest nights that we had experienced in previous years was totally broken in 2020 by COVID-19—just like it was for the whole world. So now we have to work on it in the post-COVID period. We have a lack of quality and quantity of hotels, which is a barrier for tourism, so we are working to improve this. Many people who come to Györ look for accommodation in Vienna or Budapest at the moment.
We are very strong in business tourism, but sports tourism is also important for us, such as bicycle tourism as we have safe bicycle routes. We are also trying to attract tourists with our cultural events. We have the second-highest-quality Philharmonic orchestra in the country and a big theater. Each year, we organize the biggest free outdoor children’s festival in Hungary and the beloved Hungarian Dance Festival. They are very popular. But we still have to improve our cultural attractions because this could also be a significant industry in Györ.
What are some of the flagship infrastructure projects underway to build, upgrade or modernize the city, and what kind of opportunities might be of interest to foreign investors?
We have four rivers that are not used to their capacity. The River Danube flows near the city and one tributary of this huge river runs through the city. When we have a flood, the Danube sends water into this tributary and it flows into the city. With that flooding, we have too much water in the city—but at other times of the year, we don’t have enough water. We are going to solve this problem by developing flood protection at the confluence of the rivers to regulate the whole water level. It’s important because we can start dealing with waterway transportation, which can be the extension of our motorway transportation and can open new tourism opportunities as well. We have several ideas for the riversides with different projects and we can take ideas from Paris, Venice or Amsterdam with their canals. This could help the atmosphere of the city and allow us also to rethink the touristic possibilities. Water solutions were very much neglected in the past.
We also have to rethink our transportation plan. We have the same problems as many cities in Europe: we have too many cars downtown. I would like to focus on environmental protection. When I became a mayor one year ago, my first step was the protection of the two big forests that are near the city’s downtown and the third forest in the city. Now, not a single tree can be cut and we have an environmental protection committee, which we didn’t have previously.
In the past years, the industry of the city has developed a lot and new workplaces were created, which generated the development of the apartments’ market also. Many city developers appeared. They were not real developers as they utilized the city and they built bad-quality apartments without enough parking places or green areas around them. This was the tendency in the previous 20 years. We have to see what percentage of the city can be built as there are huge areas that are forbidden to be changed. There are significant protests due to the business crisis. But we are focusing on a brand-new city development strategy with environmental protection. Investors who used past opportunities start to have new ideas and, as they see the possibilities, they participate now in the development of the city. It is a brand new aspect and we needed one year to put it right.
We have to think of the main aspects of the city and the strategies that will determine the development of the city in the next 20, 30 or 40 years. One of the main aspects of the city—that we can also see in other cities in Western Europe—is that it is divided by the railway and the railway station is in the center of the city. We would like to solve that by taking the railway underground in a 2-kilometer long area. This is a big challenge but if we think of the fact that the first underground railway of Europe was built at the beginning of the last century in Budapest, this cannot be such a big challenge. The planning is already ongoing, together with the Budapest-Warsaw high-speed railway, which is also on its way.
This could change the traffic of Györ significantly. We could win huge areas downtown and change its profile. What we can see clearly is that there is no place for more cars downtown. As the city extended, the nearby villages became closer to the city and many people moved into these nearby villages. But they come to work to Györ every day and bring their children to schools in Györ, mainly by car. Of course there is bus transportation but these are not electric buses at the moment, so we have huge air pollution. A solution for this could be the suburban railway network because it is more convenient, safer and also quicker than just sitting in a traffic jam. Another possibility is the bicycle but, due to the weather, it would be very hard to convince people of this. That’s why the railway could be a solution.
The development of the railway system would be a good opportunity for Györ. As we had 14 factories in or near downtown Györ with industrial railway lines built, that makes this feasible. We have ideas but are open to the ideas of everybody, using the “Open City Hall” system that we introduced, which means that we react to everybody’s ideas very quickly. Working in emergency cardiology, I’m used to deciding and acting in a few minutes, but this is not something expected from the mayor’s office and it is one of my biggest challenges as a mayor. But when people see the success and the positive effects that they also obtain, they get used to it.
You were elected as mayor a year ago. What are some of the main achievements you have made during that year and how would you summarize your vision for the city?
I inherited two big investments from my predecessor: one was the renovation of the Györ theater and the other one was the Water Adventure Park. My idea for the development of the city is a bit different. I stopped the renovation of the theater because with this amount of money we can also build a new one. Near the center of the city, on the area of the previous Rába factory, there is a district that is not built on yet. It is at the riverside of the Mosoni Danube. The idea is to build a cultural center that would have also a theater, it would be the home of the Ballet of Győr and there would be a conference center in it that could also function as a concert hall for the Philharmonic Orchestra of Györ. In this place, there would also be a youth center, where even big concerts for 1,000 people could be organized, from pop to rock music.
It would be on the riverside of the Mosoni Danube and, as the university is also on the riverside of the Mosoni Danube, there could be an avenue leading from the university to this cultural center. People could have the opportunity to go to this center by foot, by bicycle, by car or even waterway. Just as the stars arrive to the Venice Festival by boat, the stars and audience could go to the opera festival of Györ by boat. Also, as we don’t have a conference center at the moment, it could attract congress tourists. So we have huge possibilities with this project. It is very important to involve young people in its planning, because the kind of future we would like to see is very important.
The other investment I inherited was the new Water Adventure Park. I let it go on. I think it isn’t in the best location—such a park should be at the border of the city—but we couldn’t let this investment go, because the city would have lost a huge amount of money.
To conclude this interview, what is your final message for our readers?
In Györ you are at the right place. This is also an important message for young people.