Analyzing Georgia's Global Potential for Growth

Georgia’s brand-new Technology Park hosted a packed conference last Friday celebrating the launch of The Economist's ‘The World in 2016’, Georgian edition by the Georgia Today Group. The conference, sponsored by SOCAR, Microsoft, 2030 and Adjara Group, brought together ministers, local industry leaders and foreign experts for a day of panels on topics ranging from Georgia’s agricultural outlook to the challenges facing its highest-tech entrepreneurs.

The Economist’s annual “World in…” issue is a book-sized special edition of the venerable Britain-based magazine, published at the beginning of each calendar year with a raft of predictions for the coming twelve months. “The World in 2016” is the 30th such publication. The Georgia Today Group, which owns the Georgian rights to the magazine, has licensed the annual “World in…” edition every year since 2009, publishing it in Georgian and with roughly 20% additional localized content.

According to George Sharashidze, founder of Georgia Today Group, the aim of Friday’s conference was “to generate new ideas for a more efficient performance of both the government and private sectors through critical analysis of Georgia’s challenges and potential for growth in both a regional and global perspective.” The panels narrowed that focus to questions of agriculture, tourism, entrepreneurship and innovation, and the economy generally.

On balance, an optimistic tone was struck regarding ongoing developments here in Georgia. Minister of Agriculture Otar Danelia managed a particularly breathtaking tightrope act in his commentary, which, following questions, grew to be quite extensive. On the one hand, he smiled, “our farmers are now cultivating lands that have been cultivated before,” speaking to a spike in interest in and investment into Georgia’s definitive sector. On the other, he highlighted the very real shortcomings that remain, and create a situation where, despite the nation’s growing output, “we have about 25% in losses because we cannot store it properly.”

That lack of sufficient storage facilities and practices served perhaps as well as any other issue to highlight the three main problems that emerged again and again in panels throughout the day: technology, infrastructure, and education. On all fronts, although further action was urged, panelists assured their audience of the work already underway. Acknowledgement of the work already completed, meanwhile, was somewhat inescapable, the government-initiated ‘Tech Park’ hosting the conference having only been inaugurated a number of weeks ago.

On the infrastructural front, Dimitri Kumsishvili, Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development, was able to boast about the more than USD 3 billion which is already allotted for projects over the next five years, including fiscal year 2016. Those projects include a tunnel from Mestia to Racha, and a number of new train lines branching off the trunk line through Kutaisi. Bruno Balvanera, from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), “fully subscribed to” and followed up the minister’s comments with some lucky numbers to play. “This is a country that has been building 50, 60, 70 km of road every year,” he said. “This cannot be… now, the country needs to build 170, 200 km a year. Because the world is not going to wait for Georgia to have these roads. Georgia needs to have these roads for the world to come.”

Mr. Balvanera continued to make an impassioned case for specialized education, whether in order to train a generation of young, tech-savvy innovators or to bring standards of hospitality service up to international levels, as necessary in keeping Georgia competitive internationally. “It is extremely important that wherever you go in Georgia you have very good service,” he said. “Service at international standards; service in English; service in Russian. And in that respect I think it’s very, very important that we also focus on enhancing the capability and to help successful entrepreneurs like Adjara Group.”

Adjara Group, for its part, was represented by Valeri Chekheria, who, speaking briefly but very effectively, radiated dynamism on behalf of the company and sector. Speaking of the Group’s flagship Rooms Hotel, he found his fire not in attracting international clientele to the properties in Georgia, but on expanding the properties to Europe, where at least two Rooms projects are underway and where, he noted, “we’re in negotiations with a few capitals.” Speaking of the yet-unnamed 350-bed hostel being pursued in Tbilisi, he emphasized that, although Adjara Group hoped to attract more – “and new” – visitors to Georgia, the hostel will also be actively courting its domestic clientele. “The strategy we have at the moment is directed towards Georgian Management of a Georgian Product,” he said. This is not just a business interest – this is in the interest of the country.”

Robert Isaf

21 March 2016 18:09