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Favourable business environment in focus

Narovlya District — most affected by the Chernobyl disaster — occupies leading position for small business development 
By Larisa Velyaminova

Last year, this district of the Gomel Region was acknowledged best in the country (among settlements with up to 50,000 residents) for small business development — despite being located far from the regional centre. Moreover, it is one of the Gomel Region’s three areas most affected by the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe, feeling the full brunt of the 20th century’s largest ecological catastrophe. What are the secrets of its business attractiveness?

Coffee from tax inspector

Boris Geller and his son Stanislav founded the Polesie Furniture Company in Polesie, shifting their hard and soft furniture production from Mozyr. “The decision was made after we found out about the programme of small business support in towns. It ensures serious advantages to private initiative in such settlements: moderate taxes, several times lower rent and a favourable attitude on the part of local authorities. We were offered a choice of premises. Where else would the head of a district executive committee’s economic department call personally to see how you are doing? Moreover, the tax inspectors offer us a cup of coffee when we come to report on income and payments. It might seem insignificant but these details show the attitude towards entrepreneurs who run businesses here,” stresses Boris.

The Gellers brought their own team of furniture making specialists from Mozyr and their staff has been gradually growing, supplemented by new local employees. More jobs are planned for the future, as the family has huge plans. The company’s move from a large industrial centre to a small town has not affected demand for its goods; in fact, it has more customers than ever. “It’s vital to create a good reputation and image in our business,” explains Boris. “We already boast this, as I’m extremely attentive to quality, giving us a good reputation with our customers — irrespective of our factory’s location.”

Narovlya residents are showing increasing interest in buying furniture which seems to indicate that they have disposable income. The entrepreneur’s buyers tend to be young families from the neighbouring agro-town who are keen to make their homes more comfortable. “If someone wants to live well, they’ll succeed; if they aren’t driven, they’ll find a dozen excuses,” asserts Boris, who has a great deal of life experience. He previously emigrated to Israel, spending a year there before returning to Belarus, believing that a new page had turned, with greater opportunities for success — especially for business. “I’m not yet close to becoming a US Dollar millionaire but I’m convinced I could be within a decade. The opportunities are there, so hard work is the key,” he is convinced.

Loans for business

Pavel Yelizarov set up Krolshtad Farm three years ago, specialising in breeding rabbits; he produces about 2 tonnes of meat monthly, which he stresses is free of radionuclides. Recently, the farm has begun breeding quails, which enjoy demand in Belarus and Russia, fetching a good price. In a picturesque spot, on the site of a former sanatorium, the farm has plenty of outbuildings, in one of which Pavel, his wife and two children live.

The entrepreneur used an interest free loan from the state to set up the farm and create 23 jobs. In fact, he’s already repaid the loan and is applying for another — to revive the Soviet tradition of purchasing rabbits from individual breeders. In the past, Narovlya residents were known as professional rabbit farmers, although few continue today, lacking buyers. A centralised system of purchase would once again inspire the development of rabbit breeding in the district.

Besides buying rabbit meat and fur, the farm would help breeders wishing to buy good quality rabbit feed and could offer advice and veterinary services. Such support is likely to attract local residents.

“The loan will allow my business to develop further,” he emphasises. “Rabbits breed quickly so, in a year or two, every villager could have their own cages of animals.”

Such businessmen are impressive in their optimism and confidence. They realise that profits and success don’t come from thin air, requiring initiative and a desire to improve oneself. This is probably the key to successful business development in the region. Moreover, Narovlya residents have preserved their town 26 years on from the Chernobyl tragedy.
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