The Warsaw Voice » Regional Voice » Monthly - June 29, 2015
The Lower Silesia Voice
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A City of Opportunity
Roman Szełemej, mayor of Wałbrzych, talks to Barbara Deręgowska.

You became mayor of Wałbrzych four years ago—at time when, some said, the city was slowly dying. What goals did you set yourself?
I resolved to build something of substance, in both the physical and spiritual sense. Together with the people of Wałbrzych, I am expecting the city to change so you really feel like living here and want to constantly develop. We do not want to come up with visions with nothing behind them. We had too much of that in the past and people stopped trusting anyone. Instead, they would just leave and those who stayed here did not contribute to the city’s life. People were leaving Wałbrzych at such a fast rate that the new authorities could only make a difference by taking concrete action. The city needed almost everything, from jobs, efficient public transport and safe streets to new schools and culture centers to recreational areas and so on. Local residents needed all of that to live here and feel the city was worth living in.

What has changed over the past four years?
Our decisions are being put to the test every day but, as the last mayoral elections showed, over 82 percent of residents approve of the way in which our city is developing.

Things weren’t easy at first, as no other city in Poland had as many problems as Wałbrzych did until recently. We have since built new roads, renovated many buildings and constructed new ones. Over the past three years, we have significantly enhanced recreational opportunities in the area. A former coal mine is now home to the huge Stara Kopalnia (Old Mine) Science and Art Center, which last year had tens of thousands of visitors. This is one of the largest post-industrial tourism sites in Europe. Our Aqua Zdrój sports and recreation center is the largest in Lower Silesia province and comprises swimming pools, sports fields and a hotel.

Of course, we continue to work with large businesses from abroad. The Special Economic Zone in Wałbrzych was established almost 20 years ago and has over the years drawn dozens of major companies from around the world. We are happy to see this, but unfortunately the zone is sort of separate from Wałbrzych in that companies that operate there hardly take part in the city’s life. They are like an enclave with low taxes, a cheap labor force and other incentives for investors. This isolated investment concept boils down to doing big business only within the zone, without any real ties to the area. This is changing now, but still not fast enough.

What are the city’s main selling points?
I would like potential investors from Poland and abroad to see beyond the main draw, the special economic zone. Wałbrzych presents huge opportunities to business. We have vacant, business-ready land outside the zone as well. We have been working to get even more land ready, providing full infrastructure and good access, including access to Poland’s freeway network. With the Wałbrzych Special Economic Zone close by, investors have renowned companies such as Toyota, Cersanit, Mando and Faurecia as neighbors. These are global companies and by investing and operating in our area for several years now, they have shown that doing business with us really pays off.

We offer residential and commercial real estate at attractive prices. These are often historic buildings that are in good shape and can be converted into hotels and pensions. Besides, newly built apartments in Wałbrzych are 40 percent cheaper than comparable housing in Wrocław. Land in Wałbrzych is available at much lower prices than elsewhere in Lower Silesia and the rest of Poland. Wałbrzych is waiting to be rediscovered and now is the best time to make the most of it. The city is a place worth living in even when you have a job somewhere else. In Wałbrzych, many people with high qualifications are still looking for a job. This is important news to businesses that are launching operations in the city.

Our selling points also include the city’s location. Sitting amid the valleys and hills of the Sudeten foothills and the Wałbrzych Mountains, Wałbrzych is close to tourist trails, mountain hostels, castles, palaces and drift mines. Our architectural gem, the Książ Castle, is a regional culture and history center that draws visitors from around the world. When you come to Wałbrzych, you can take a hiking expedition, ride a horse, explore the local tourist trails and ski in winter. On weekends, you can take a trip to the Kłodzko Valley, the Jelenia Góra Valley and the nearby Czech Republic.

We are a city of opportunity, a city that is fun to live in!

Roman Szełemej, 55, is married with four children.
He graduated from the Wrocław Medical University in 1985 and earned an MD degree in 1996. In 1985, he started working at the Mining Hospital in Wałbrzych (currently the Dr. A. Sokołowski Hospital) and has worked there ever since. His positions at the hospital have included those of postgraduate intern (1985), junior assistant in the general medicine ward (1986-1999), deputy head (1999) and then head of the general medicine and cardiology ward (2000-2002), health services director (2002-2005) and deputy director (2005-2011), and head of the cardiology ward (2005-present). He was also the province chairman’s commissioner in charge of merging Wałbrzych’s hospitals (2003-2005) and the province board’s commissioner for health policy (2008-2011). He has been mayor of Wałbrzych since 2011.