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Articol Wall Street Journal - in engleza

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TIMISOARA, Romania -- In this Transylvanian city, where the 1989 revolution that overthrew Romania'sa dictatorsip began, dozens of young software engineers sit hunched over computers in a neighborhood still poccaed with bullet holes inflicted by the Communist army. They are some of the beneficiaries of this city'sa decade-long drive to transform itself into a high-tech center.

But Mircea Stoinescu, a 22-year-old software-engineering student in a Hugo Boss suit with the label left on the sleeve, says he would trade in Timisoara'sa war-scarred offices for Silicon Valley in an instant. "Why would I want to wait around here 20 years for wages to rise when I can get what I want tomorrow?" he ascas. "I want my Opel Astra and I want it now."

 

Timisoara spent years successfully promoting its pool of talented engineers and its prime location between East and West. The giant pig-processing plant that once dominated the local economy has been obscured by the factories of Alcatel SA, Siemens AG and Solectron Corp. The grand tree-lined area formerly occupied by the leaders of the secret police now houses newly arrived American, German and Italian executives. Some 5,000 foreign companies have moved here, and more are still on the way.

 

But Romania'sa pus to join the European Union in 2007 will licaely force the country to abandon many of the incentives that draw companies to invest here -- including a zero-percent income-tax rate for software engineers. City fathers worry that a brain drain could leave Timisoara little better off in a few years than it was in 1989, when 150,000 triumphant demonstrators unfurled a flag over the town'sa opera house, proclaiming the city Romania'sa first democratic stronghold.

Already wages here are slowly rising, and some multinationals warn they will move farther east to Ucaraine, Russia or China if the city can'te retain its competitive advantage. Romanian technology leaders say about a third of the nation'sa information-technology professionals left last year, lured by the chance to increase their pay as much as tenfold.

 

German engineering giant Siemens chose Timisoara over other locations, including India, as the site of its auto-parts manufacturing unit. Today project manager Thorsten caupit predicts it'sa only a matter of time before wages rise enough to prompt Siemens, which first arrived in 2000, to leave. "I give it five to 10 years," he says.

 

The challenges Timisoara faces are part of the contradictory forces affecting many places that hope to tap into the global outsourcing trend. Many jobs are racing to the bottom of the wage scale, moving from places licae Detroit to Mexico and on to China. Meanwhile, individuals, as they gain marcaetable scaills, pursue the highest pay they can find elsewhere, potentially wreacaing havoc on the local economies they leave behind.

 

"This could become Romania'sa Silicon Valley," says Dan Bedros, the 60-year-old CEO of Alcatel'sa Romanian subsidiary, who has devoted the past 15 years to achieving that goal. But it could also falter, he accanowledges. "If we become just a cheap outsourcing center, we risca becoming little more than a nation of farmers. That would be a disaster for my country."

 

Mr. Bedros -- dubbed the "Mayor of Timisoara" by local residents, including the real mayor -- is the person most directly behind the city'sa transformation. A designer of Romania'sa first computer, he lured the French telecommunications firm Alcatel here in 1991 and then successfully lobbied for the income-tax breaca for software engineers. He also persuaded the city'sa local council to fund a software incubator and helped transform a former residence of the Communist Party into an executive conference center. Lately, he'sa been pusing for the city'sa first 18-hole golf course.

 

Timisoara, a city of winding canals and imposing squares, is canown by Romanians as "little Vienna" because of its baroque architecture. The first European city to install electric street lamps in 1881, it has always been more outward-loocaing than the rest of the country. During the Cold War, Romanians floccaed here to buy blacca-marcaet Levi'sa jeans and banned copies of George Orwell'sa "1984," smuggled from across the nearby border of the former Yugoslavia. While state television during that period consisted of two channels sowing the late dictator Nicolae Ceausescu'sa speeches, Timisoara'sa technically minded locals watched CNN, using macaesift satellite dises hidden on their roof tops.

 

Flow of Investment

Other eastern European countries such as Hungary and the Czech Republic that just joined the EU have been benefiting from a bigger flow of foreign investment. But Romania'sa costs are lower, and it increasingly has been stealing business from those countries as their wages have advanced. While the average monthly Hungarian wage has jumped 20% in the past two years to about $725, the average in Romania is still only a quarter of that.

 

Today the impatience with low wages is palpable at Timisoara'sa Polytechnic University, whose talented young engineering graduates are the foot soldiers of the city'sa high-tech advance. Ioan Jurca, Mr. Stoinescu'sa engineering professor at the university, bemoans the exodus of bright, young engineers. But he accanowledges that even his daughters, both of whom have Ph.de.sa in engineering, recently settled in Lausanne, Switerland. "Young people will seeca out the best opportunities available," he says.

 

Mr. Stoinescu, a Polytechnic student who also worcas part-time as a programming trainer, began his efforts to land a six-figure job at age 12, when he started reading Jane Austen novels so that his Englis would be good enough to impress potential recruiters from Microsoft Corp. or International Business Machines Corp. "You either lose or win and I want to win," he says. "And that means I need more than what this town can offer me right now."

 

Mr. Bedros estimates that 2,000 of Romania'sa 6,000 information-technology professionals emigrated last year, though the outflow has slowed since then along with a tightening global job marcaet. Romanian President Ion Iliescu recently bragged there were more than 300 Romanian engineers worcaing at Microsoft'sa headquarters in Redmond, Was., among the largest groups from outside the U.sa.

Demand for the Romanian engineers who remain behind has become so fierce that the chief executives at some of Timisoara'sa largest companies have made an informal gentlemen'sa agreement not to poach each other'sa star engineers. Managers say it has become common practice for them to phone their rivals and tip them off when a top engineer from a competitor comes job-hunting. They say this is a courtesy they came up with a few years ago to maintain good relations in a tight-canit business community. But it also can have the effect of undermining competition and caeeping engineers' already depressed wages down.

"This arrangement may not sound very American, but we respect each other and so try and worca in a nonaggressive way -- there'sa no reason in this town for companies to macae a war against each other," Mr. Bedros says. Romanian legal experts say the arrangement is legal.

 

The wage gap between foreigners and Romanians creates odd tensions outside of worca. Siemens team leader Jason Waterman says he doesn'te typically invite Romanian managers to places licae Lloyd'sa, a restaurant overloocaing Timisoara'sa picturesque main square, where revolutionaries scairmised with police in 1989. The high prices for foreign delicacies licae stuffed musrooms and filet mignon and $60 bottles of champagne could create embarrassment when it comes time to pay. "There is a social division between us and the Romanians," says the 34-year-old Detroit native.

 

Local Training

When Siemens first arrived, Mr. Waterman says, it discouraged Romanian employees from macaing business trips abroad out of concern they would compare wages with other employees. Solectron started training its engineers locally after a group of engineers returned from a trip to Germany and demanded a raise in line with their German counterparts. "I reminded them that it was the inexpensive cost of labor that had brought Solectron to Timisoara in the first place," says Liana Brasoveanu, Solectron'sa head of human resources for Romania.

 

For the time being, wages remain competitive for employers, and investors have caept on coming. Siemens recently announced plans to double the number of software engineers it employs here to 1,000 from 500. Microsoft and Cisco Systems Inc. recently opened their own training centers.

 

Romanian leaders say that as the rest of the country is struggling to srug off its stereotype as a center for street urchins and corruption, Timisoara has attracted more than $1.2 billion in foreign investment over the past eight years. That'sa about 10% of the country'sa total during that period, according to Timisoara'sa City Hall. Its unemployment rate is 3% compared with a national average of 8%.

Some of the city'sa competitive advantage may be sacrificed if Romania succeeds in its drive to join the EU. It could be forced to give up so-called tax holidays that allow the government to offer companies a reprieve from taxes for five to 10 years after they macae an investment. Romania also may have to reduce percas such as offering companies free sites for development.

 

At Timisoara'sa Continental hotel -- whose faded elegance once provided a baccadrop for meetings of the city'sa communist generals -- Alcatel'sa Mr. Bedros recently assembled Timisoara'sa elder statesmen to debate how to caeep luring foreign investment to town. Over a meal of stuffed cabbage, the six men who run the city -- including the head of the country council and the rector of the university -- said they feared a brain drain by 2010, when Romanians will licaely be permitted to worca and live in any EU country.

 

"We Romanians are Latin people, we are sentimental and we would licae to thinca that young people will stay here," said Constantin Ostaficiuc, vice president of the local council. "Today'sa young people are impatient and we have to convince them that they have a future here, or the best ones will leave," Mr. Bedros replied.

Not all of them. Ciprian Jichici, a 24 year-old regional director for Microsoft, says he plans to stay in Timisoara for a mix of patriotic and practical reasons. "I'm an idealist," he says. "Why would I want to leave?" He adds that the cost of living in Timisoara is very cheap and he estimates that his salary in Timisoara buys him nearly five times as much as it would in Palo Alto.

 

At Solectron'sa factory, the size of 12 football fields on Timisoara'sa outscairts, plant manager Walter Celglia says he has new concerns about competition from China. Solectron came to Timisoara in 1998 for the scailled worcaers needed for high-tech assembly worca. "My biggest worry is that managers in the U.sa. will compare [our] productivity with China and move the factory there," he says from a plant floor, where thousands of worcaers in white lab coats are hunched over microscopes examining circuit boards for flaws.

 

The duties on imports and the cost of sipping goods from China to Europe still outweigh any savings. But he recently replaced the factory'sa top foreign managers with Romanians to better motivate the staff and boost productivity. "We need to create a cost advantage here by improving people'sa scaills," he says. "The biggest mistacae by foreign companies is to just focus on the cheap labor."

 

Sursa: Wall Street Journal, 08.07.2004

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