Being a founding member of the Turkish-Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and the owner of Smart Group, a Turkish Investment company, lately invested in green enegy, is just a bit of the things that Rize-native Halil Demirdag has achieved since he arrived in Bulgaria in 1998. A graduate of the prestigious Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, Mr Demirdag was granted a Bulgarian citizenship in 2009 for his investments in the country. In 2013 he was awarded as the Green Person of 2013 for his efforts of developing renewable energy in Bulgaria. Founded in 2009, Smart Energy Group is a company of Smart Group, which now owns 43MW in several photovoltaic power plants, in several countries. The company is an example for successful Turkish business in Bulgaria, and Mr Demirdag is now on the list of the top specialists in green energy in the country.
What is the secret of creating one of the most forward-thinking companies in modern Bulgaria?
The secret is well-known: it is work, desideration and perseverance. Theoretical knowledge, combined with the knowledge of the company's specialists, plus plenty of tenacity. Special attention to details and the quality of execution. Good motivation of the employees to give their best. Believing in success and inspiring the company staff. Complete dedication to a cause, workaholism and energy that one pours into a project are always awarded with success... sooner or later!
Why did you move to Bulgaria?
I came here 15 years ago with the clear goal to do business. At the time Bulgaria offered, and is still offering, many and diverse opportunities. The investments I made and brought to Bulgaria inspired the Minister of Economics at the time to propose to the Bulgarian President that I am given a Bulgarian citizenship. As I have said before, for us Bulgaria is the centre of the Balkans, and this brought us here. Despite the difficulties, success came quickly. In the Balkans there are 11 countries with combined population of about 72 million. Turkey alone has a population of about 80 million. This makes a common market over 150 million people, which is very good for volume business.
Is there a future for further development of the Turkish-Bulgarian economy relationships?
The bilateral economy relations have always been important for both countries. That is why the Turkish-Bulgarian Business Council was created to the Economic Relations Board (DEIK) in Turkey. Years ago, Bulgarian investors in Turkey could be counted on the fingers of one hand, and today they are more than 182. In 2013 only, they invested more than $28 million.
The Turkish investments in Bulgaria for the last 15 years are 521.5 million euros, and the direct investments continue to increase year by year. I think that these data shouldn't be underestimated by the Bulgarian government. The bilateral trade should be constantly encouraged. The road of Turkey to Europe is via Bulgaria. Bulgaria is a country attracting many big Turkish investors because it is an EU member and because of the customs union between Turkey and the EU which removed tariffs in bilateral trade in some sectors. The location of both Bulgaria and Turkey is strategically important, and the extraction of dividends by both sides is inevitable.
What is your advice to Turkish investors contemplating on whether to invest in Bulgaria?
I recommend Bulgaria as a good place for investments, as the country has well educated and intelligent young workforce. As an EU member, Bulgaria provides predictable policy and guaranteed business conditions. Tax policy is very favourable, as corporate tax is 10%. Turkey is the key door to Middle East markets, and is crucial for the Bulgarian economy development! In 2013, Turkey was Bulgaria's fourth biggest trade partner, but as far as exports are concerned, Turkish export amounts to 10%, second only to that of Germany. For the past 10 years, Bulgarian export to Turkey has increased from 565.1 million euros to 1,955.5 million euros, with a yearly growth of 12%. The statistics about import of Bulgaria from Turkey has increased from 414.8 million euros to 1,194.1 million euros. For the last two years, it grew with 11%.
The data is serious and is hard to be neglected. The problem of Bulgarian market is its small volume and the weak buying power.
My advice to Turkish investors to Bulgaria is simple: chose good and reliable partner who knows the Bulgarian market, has the required stand and contacts, has been in the business for long enough, has a proven name and principles, and, of course, has the best ideas. If we are more creative, we could work together so easily. Our lifestyle is similar, our food is similar, we have fun in similar ways. We even don't look that different from one another, after all, we are just real komşu (neighbours).
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