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Investors' Summit 2010 - Sweden is the biggest foreign direct investor in Estonia with a 36,9% share. Together with Finland these two Nordic countries' share of the FDI's in Estonia is 60%, said Andrus Alber, CEO at Nasdaq OMX Tallinn, at the Investors' Summit 2010.

Jointly organized by the Swedish, American and German-Baltic Chambers of Commerce in Estonia the first ever Investors' Summit focused on the current Estonian growth drivers, Estonia's image abroad, bottlenecks and prescriptions for a faster and sustainable recovery from the crisis.

Moderated by Yrjö Ojasaar the Investors' Summit brought together nine speakers and panelists and more than 100 members of the foreign Chambers of Commerce in Estonia.

Growth Drivers

- Estonia has won wide trust among foreign investors, including the financial markets, said both Joakim Helenius – Trigon Capital and Andrus Alber – Nasdaq OMX. Prudent macroeconomic and fiscal policies have guaranteed our accession to the euro area and OECD.

- Additional Estonian growth drivers include a favourable tax regime with low corporate income tax and a flat rate income tax. A social tax ceiling is planned and we have a flexible labour legislation and relatively weak labour unions, added Joakim Helenius.

- At the end of 2009 Estonia had received FDI's amounting to 11,3 billion EUR and portfolio investments amounting to 600 million EUR. Today Estonians have started to save significantly, which means that more local financing should also be available, said Andrus Alber.

Estonia's Image Abroad

- We expect them to know Estonia since we are so close to each other, but do not overestimate their knowledge, said Margus Pauts – Trigon Capital, referring to a recent study of theirs involving 125 owners or managers of the largest Finnish manufacturing companies.

- They know labour unions are killing the business in Finland, but they don't know that Estonia has the most flexible labour law in EU and labour unions here are nearly inexistent. They know we have corruption, but they don't know it is the lowest in CEE. Estonia has still a huge work to do to improve our image at our neighboring Nordic countries, and the time to do this job is now.

Bottlenecks

- Low productivity, the education system does not meet the needs of businesses and though we have a high unemployment level, there is a lack of skilled people in many business sectors, said Joakim Helenius. There is, for example a total lack of sales ability among Estonian business managers.

- What happens when Estonia's labor cost is in parity with the West?, asked Edmund Smolarek, Vice President at Balti Spoon. Companies who have just recovered or are in the process of recovering from the recession will find themselves paying higher salaries and this might lead to a new wave of bankruptcies if they don't manage to increase productivity.

- It's not a coincidence that 70% of our employees are women, told Edmund Smolarek. It seems like Estonian men don't like to work. And, if they turn up for work at all they are either late or drunk!

Prescriptions

- Estonia should avoid an export industry based on large-scale capital intensive production. As our exporters are likely to be small, they can be nimble and gain a competitive edge by capturing new opportunities on the international markets. Focus should be on maximizing productivity, quality and on sales, sales and sales, said Joakim Helenius.

- We have increased our marketing and sales team from 1 to 10 persons. Additionally we have invested in technology and a training program for our employees to increase productivity, said Edmund Smolarek.

- Companies should broaden their scope of financing sources! Bank loans are usually the biggest source of financing, while corporate bonds only has a 5% share of the GDP and stock market capitalization is 10% of the GDP. Actually only one third of private persons' Estonian deposits would cover the investment needs of all Estonian companies, said Andrus Alber.

The panel discussion – including Joakim Helenius and Margus Pauts - Trigon Capital, Maria Allaja – EAS, Andres Arrak – Economist, Andrus Alber - Nasdaq OMX Tallinn, Andreas Laane - Nordea Bank Estonia, Edmund Smolarek - Balti Spoon, and Pekka Puolakka - Law Firm Sorainen - had a consensus that Estonia now has a good position for a continued growth. However, we have to create an inviting and attractive atmosphere for skilled and talented people from abroad. This would support Estonia to quicker solve the need for specialists as well as to improve its local peoples' selling skills and increase productivity.

The presentations made by Joakim Helenius, Margus Pauts, Andrus Alber and Edmund Smolarek are available online at www.swedishchamber.ee.

Investors' Summit 2010 photos:
Sergei Krasii – fotki.com