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The Warsaw Voice » Business » October 27, 2017
Business & Economy
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The Capital of Innovation
October 27, 2017   
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Barbara Deręgowska talks to Tadeusz Ferenc, the Mayor of Rzeszów.

For a number of years, Rzeszów has been topping all the rankings. Is there anything left worth pursuing?
“For us, coming first in rankings is not a goal in itself. It is certainly a joy to see Rzeszów do well, but it also points to the areas where we still have a lot to improve. We need to stay humble and do what we are here to do. We realise that Rzeszów is a medium sized city, and the fact that it competes with significantly larger and richer Polish cities in the rankings is certainly a source of satisfaction.

A few years ago, we became focused on innovation, and thus our promotional slogan “Rzeszów - the innovation capital”. At first, most people just smiled politely when they heard it. However, we managed to convince the residents and businesses that this is the right way and I think we are starting to see the results. We have innovative businesses; university subjects and high schools are also geared to teach innovation. Now, it is practically everywhere. And here, Rzeszów’s residents have made a vast contribution. Today, for them, innovative thinking and acting is the norm.”

Rzeszów is not just a city. How many communes were persuaded to expand their boundaries, and what came of it?
“It was a very difficult and complex process. The first expansion of the city took place in 2007. Since that time Rzeszów grew more than twofold, from 54 to 120 square kilometres. The population increased from 159 to approximately 220 thousand. This also means that we’ve gained new lands for investment. A Special Economic Zone was established, developers began building housing estates. New jobs were created.

All that contributed to Rzeszów’s sudden and rapid growth. Let’s look at the city’s budget as an example. In 2003, it was PLN 370 million, out of which we channelled approximately PLN 50 million into investments. Today, the budget is PLN 1.3 billion and 400 thousand of that is invested. Residents of the attached rural administrative units are also satisfied. And I have research conducted by the University of Rzeszów to back up this claim. It clearly shows that 90 per cent of the new city residents would not like to return to the previous state. The same percentage of respondents declare that they are happy to be living in Rzeszów. Since they’ve become part of the city, we’ve invested PLN 800 million in those areas. We’ve built new water mains, sewage, roads, pavements and bicycle paths. New schools, preschools, nurseries, sports halls and playgrounds have sprung up. And city expansion is still on the agenda, as it provides us with an opportunity to grow and become richer. Everyone is happy with this process.”

Last year, you were awarded a diploma by the European Commission in Brussels for exemplary transport in the city. What will roll out onto Rzeszów’s streets in the near future?
“We’ve completed the first stage of the “Construction of a system integrating public transport in Rzeszów and the surrounding areas” programme, which was worth PLN 415 million and 85% of it was funded by the EU. It aimed to improve the functioning of our public transport. The project was three-pronged: expansion of the transport system, purchase of modern and comfortable buses and the establishment of Rzeszów’s Intelligent Transport System. We’ve rebuilt roads and junctions, we introduced “bus passes”, we purchased 80 new buses and air-conditioned bus stops. Within the next year, we will purchase 40 new buses, including 10 powered by electricity. The buses are equipped with a voice stop announcement system and a voice operated bus stop arrival system for the visually impaired. Monitors inside the bus show the route which a given bus travels as well as the current and the next stop.

The Public Transport Management Centre was also established within the scope of this project. It monitors the correct performance of transport tasks by the Municipal Transport Company (Miejskie Przedsiębiorstwo Komunikacji). GPS transceivers make it possible for the centre’s staff to track the location of every bus. New vehicles are monitored and also feature an electronic passenger counting system. There are electronic information boards at bus stops, which display the actual bus arrival time, which is also announced by a voice system for the visually impaired.

All these efforts have resulted in a 10% growth of bus passengers over the course of a year. And we want to continue developing our public transport system. We are looking to earmark another PLN 400 million for that purpose. We are also thinking about an overground monorail train system as well as the use of autonomous vehicles, which do not require a driver.”

Where do you find inspiration for all these innovations which abound in Rzeszów?
“In Poland and across the world. And I’ve made a point not to travel by aeroplane - it is difficult to see anything from up high. Whenever possible, I prefer to use a car. One just has to be an avid observer. In Klagenfurt, our twin town, I got the idea for flowers which adorned the lamp posts. In Boston, I noticed illuminated trees and shrubs in green belts. The idea to construct a round footbridge for pedestrians came from Shanghai. The way greenery is arranged in parks and squares is modelled on Fángchénggaˇng - another one of our sister towns. I saw air-conditioned bus stops in Dubai. I thought that we could also use these, but in winter they’d have to be heated. There are many such examples. My staff also contribute with their ideas. Now I am beginning to hear that other cities use us as their source for ideas.”

Are you a city friendly for foreigners?
“In my opinion, yes. There are a few thousand foreign youths studying at our universities. They are mostly from Ukraine. Some of them decide to stay in Rzeszów for good. They find jobs here and start families. The numbers of lecturers from abroad are also increasing. Companies from Rzeszów’s aviation or IT sector are appreciated all over the world. Thus, it is no surprise that more and more foreigners are looking for jobs in Rzeszów. As a community, we are open and friendly and I am sure that each and every foreigner feels at home in Rzeszów.”
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