The Polish market generally
Why should we be interested in Poland?
Poland offers the best opportunities for developing business in the "western" world over the next 20 years for a number of reasons:
√ Poland has almost 40 million people - four times more than the Czech Republic or Hungary, and more than the nine other new EU member states of the “Class of 2004” combined.
√ Polish wage rates are currently 25-50% of Western wage rates - with Western or near-Western levels of productivity
√ As the European center of gravity moves east, Poland is centrally located for sales in central, eastern and western Europe.
√ Poland, culturally Catholic (and virtually without ethnic minorities), is the most "Western" of the Slavic countries.
√ Polish workers have excellent levels of skills and training and are known throughout Europe as exceptionally hard workers.
√ Poland is one of the most pro-American countries in the world; Poles love American products and the "American way of life".
√ Poland is the one European country that has had 22 years of uninterrupted economic growth - including during the 2008-2009 “Great Recession”
How does Poland's entry into the European Union change the situation in Poland?
Poland's May 1, 2004 entry into the European Union is an important step in a long process of bringing Polish business and administrative practices up to Western levels. Among the consequences are:
√ Greater political and economic stability.
√ Better administrative protections, such as intellectual property rights.
√ Large inflows of structural funds and other European Union moneys.
For Western companies, meeting Polish technical and administrative standards means that, through the EU mutual recognition rules, you can sell your products or services in any of the 27 other EU member states.
Has Poland recovered from communism?
Globally, yes. The Poles have a "bright morning" attitude and see the current situation as an historic opportunity to make sure that their country never comes under foreign domination again; we find an energy and an enthusiasm in the business sector that is in stark contrast with attitudes in western Europe. However, you may encounter from time to time (particularly in dealing with the public sector) certain bureaucratic or "non-business-friendly" attitudes or types of behavior that are holdovers from the communist era.
What products and services offer the best opportunities for sales in Poland?
After the long grayness of communism, the Poles need and want virtually everything. They are avid consumers, and the country is developing an increasingly large middle class. Moreover, European Union and other public funds will be available for many infrastructure and modernization projects.
Some of the areas that we've identified as particularly attractive are:
√ Products and services related to improvements in infrastructure (where huge sums will be spent, and where EU financing is often available). Examples include the road and rail network, environmental clean-up, municipal services and regional development projects with ongoing job-creation potential.
√ Products to assist in the agricultural revolution; Poland currently has 18% of its population involved in agriculture; the average in the West is 2-3%.
√ Entertainment and leisure products and services; the Communists provided almost nothing to amuse or entertain the population, and Poles are desperately looking for fun ways to occupy their free time.
√ Bulky or heavy products that have high transportation costs (and where Poland's central location can serve as a convenient point for manufacture, assembly and service).
√ Providing Poles with the middle class life style, meaning wide ranges of choices, creature comforts and convenience.
√ Sophisticated, modern technologies - Poles love to adopt the latest goods and services and don't have the same investment in and attachment to old products, services or ways of doing things.
What about alcohol consumption?
Perhaps the single greatest change in Poland since the Communist period is the attitude towards and the consumption of alcohol. While Poles have been infamous for centuries for their alcohol consumption, modern Poland is working too hard for serious drinking. Tolerated alcohol levels for driving are ¼ of those in the US and are strictly observed -- Poles in our experience systemically do not have a drop of alcoholic beverages if they are driving. In over 50 trips to Poland, we have not seen a single drunk Pole in a business context (and almost never in social contexts either).
Is corruption a problem?
In our ten years of frequent visits to Poland since 1999, we have encountered only one instance of proposed corruption (and that in 2002) in literally hundreds of business discussions. While corruption stories surface occasionally in the news, they are usually in the context of someone being sentenced to a lengthy jail term. Certain sectors (e.g., gasoline) are reputed to have mafia-like connections, but as a general rule, we have encountered no more influence of corruption than in any other (western) European country.