There are thousands of articles online complaining about the terrible state of Croatian bureaucracy, but no so many celebrating the success stories. And there are few places which do bureaucracy, transparency and a positive agenda for Croatia 2.0 better than the town of Sveta Nedelja, just outside Zagreb. It was a real pleasure meeting Dario Zurovec and Davor Nadji, Mayor and (then) Deputy Mayor of Sveta Nedelja. They initiated quite a revolution in their first term of office, and Dario Zurovec kindly found time for an extended interview to tell us more about the success stories inside a small Croatian town which has been voted the best medium-sized town for the economy for the last few years, as well as in the top five places in Croatia for quality of life.
(Photo credit Grad Sveta Nedelja)
1. A population increase of 10% since 2011, 20% more jobs since you took over in 2017, unemployment at just 3.9%. These are sensationalist numbers in the current economic climate in Croatia. Congratulations! What is the secret?
We have shown that steps can be taken at the local level to create a good entrepreneurial climate and attracting investors which contributes to the development of our community. We invest intensively in the development of the economy. One of the resources we boast are our entrepreneurial zones in which many successful enterprises are located.
We have abolished and reduced certain fees, which represents significantly higher savings for enterprise owners, and we co-finance interest placed on entrepreneurial loans for investments up to a total of 6%. Additional plants are being constructed which expands the business, thus creating new jobs. The progress as a result of the aforementioned is visible in regard to many indicators, such as the growth of the number of companies, the fall in the unemployment rate, and the growth of income and average net wages.
I believe that it is necessary to encourage the growth and development of entrepreneurship, continuously create and strengthen the foundations for business operations and provide more tax and other reliefs.
2. Sveta Nedelja was named the best medium-sized town for the economy for the third year in a row last year. Tell us more about that, and what are you doing differently?
For the third year in a row, we have won the title of the best city for the economy in the medium cities category, and I see this as an indicator of our shared success and desire for excellence. I am proud of the results we have achieved, and a special thanks goes out to our enterprise and craft owners, who are working diligently and responsibly and developing their businesses, thus contributing to the wider community.
3. Sveta Nedelja was also named in the top five towns for quality of life, which might surprise people. Why is it such a good place to live?
The combination of a safe family environment, a high quality of life and idyllic nature make Sveta Nedelja an excellent place for family life. High economic development, entrepreneurial zones and natural beauty are just some of the recognisable things that make Sveta Nedelja attractive and pleasant to live in, as well as for doing smart business.
We abolished surtax, which amounted to 6%, and reduced utility/communal fees in the range of 2% to 30% for most of our fellow citizens. We follow children from birth to the end of their schooling, and we also raised our allowance for newborns, we provide co-financing for pre-school education, scholarships for students, co-finance transportation and offer scholarships for the best among them, and we continuously carry out large infrastructure projects that contribute to a higher quality and standard of living.
(Living and working in Croatia – fabulous snapshot through the eyes of Rimac staff in Sveta Nedelja)
4. Sveta Nedelja is perhaps best known internationally as the home of Rimac Automobili. How important is the Rimac factor in attracting other businesses to the town?
Numerous successful companies are located in our entrepreneurial zones, but certainly one of the most famous is Rimac Automobili. Relatively young, but by far the most successful company. Sveta Nedelja is certainly known all over the world precisely because of Rimac’s company, and with that creativity and knowledge, it further encourages many young entrepreneurs in terms of their further growth and development.
5. Let’s talk public administration. You have become a beacon of transparency and progress, even introduced cryptocurrency payments, slashed local taxes and increased revenues to the town budget. Summarise it all for us.
The service of processing cryptocurrency when paying for public services to the City of Sveta Nedelja means the conversion of cryptocurrency into HRK according to the valid exchange rate at the time of service execution, and this is performed via cryptocurrency payment processing platforms. In our city, there are companies that use cryptocurrencies, like Greyp Bikes, which also belongs to Mate Rimac.
Sveta Nedelja has become the most transparent city and a leader in the Republic of Croatia in terms of innovation solutions for access to information and quality communication with fellow citizens.
We were the first in the Republic of Croatia to introduce employee appraisal by the citizens themselves and have their salaries and rewards align with those very appraisals whereby we are actually introducing a fixed and a variable part of their income. We were the first in the Republic of Croatia to introduce public announcement for all contracts, purchase orders and invoices in order to see the documents to which the invoices are linked, and such a system was also introduced in the city’s kindergarten and the fire and sports board(s) of the city.
Respecting the basic principles of public procurement and legal, purposeful spending of budget funds, we have a certificate called “Transparent Public Procurement”.
We are also pioneers in the introduction of electromagnetic field monitoring systems in cooperation with the Končar Institute. This regards the amount of radiation that is ranked in relation to legal regulations and is made visible so that their levels and the locations where they are located can be seen.
We also were the first to introduce an advisory e-referendum in our country, so that citizens and entrepreneurs alike can be involved in important decision-making processes. We have also introduced the Geographic Information Centre, a system in which all information related to urban and spatial plans of the city of Sveta Nedelja and detailed information related to the communal infrastructure can be seen. The entire GIS system is unique in Croatia. Through this system, everyone can have access to even the smallest details of the entire city system: the transparency of spatial plans, water supply networks, land, forests and infrastructure.
Through the choice of location within the map, any type of utility problem can be reported. The free mobile app Popravimo.hr is also available which reports the problem anonymously and through the means of photography. For our fellow citizens and for our family farms, we have introduced an e-marketplace system, an online store boasting domestic products, thus enabling the direct purchase of fresh and healthy ingredients and produce.
6. Lower taxes, higher revenues, more jobs, rising population. It all sounds perfect. Are other local administrations following your example, and what is stopping them if not?
Some local governments are following our example, but most still do not want to make such a big step forward, but they will soon have to because of the law that will come into force.
7. One more recent initiative you introduced to the town late last year was free buses for the town, connecting up to the Zagreb network. Tell us more.
I’m extremely happy that we have provided the citizens of Sveta Nedelja with new city transport, and that very transport will soon begin to operate. Public transport will be completely free. Three lines have been proposed but are subject to change. Better connectivity within the general area will be ensured, as will that which will take passengers to the City of Zagreb. If there is a need for changes in timetables on the lines that will operate, we will accept and realise them in agreement with the carrier.
8. You are not from the two big parties, SDP or HDZ. How does that affect your ability to get things done?
At the local level, I often face a number of challenges, most often due to political opposition. I think that with my work over these three and a half years, I’ve shown how things can change for the better, when you really want that and you choose to work exclusively for the benefit of all your fellow citizens.
9. What’s next for Dario Zurovec. You have built a very solid platform in Sveta Nedelja. Is it time to take the revolutions of transparency and sensible governing to a bigger stage?
Of course, I will always encourage the further growth and development of the city.
10. And finally, what is your message to anyone contemplating Sveta Nedelja as a place to live or move their business to?
Sveta Nedelja is certainly a city for smart business and a comfortable life.
The combination of a safe family environment, high quality of life and idyllic nature make Sveta Nedelja an excellent place for family life. Because of its positive policy towards entrepreneurship, which includes zero surtax and consumption tax rates, the abolition and reduction of levies as well as location and transport connections, we’re an ideal city for investment and entrepreneurship.
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