Georgia: Active Mayors for Economic Growth

24-05-2019

“Mayors for Economic Growth” is an initiative created in the framework of the EU’s Eastern Partnership and aimed at sustainable municipal development.

The initiative was founded in January 2017 and targets the economic empowerment of local self-governments; this in turn helps municipalities to plan and implement effective changes in their region. After action plans have been devised, projects developed by the municipalities are implemented with financial support from the EU.

Zvian Archuadze is a coordinator of this initiative in Azerbaijan and Georgia. He tells us about the basic principle of the initiative:

“This EU initiative is based on one goal – to help so-called “active mayors” in supporting economic development in their territories and in creating as many jobs as possible. The initiative helps the municipalities in two areas: first, to understand what resources are available in the municipality’s area and which are the important areas requiring economic development; it also helps develop short-term action plans and supports self-governments to improve the qualifications of their staff. The second area is financial support provided by the EU to mayors to implement ideas aimed at economic growth and development.”

The experiences of Gori and Bolnisi – two Georgian cities participating in the initiative – can be seen as best practice in demonstrating how mayors should be using EU support for the development of agribusiness and tourism in the region. After enrolling in the Mayors for Economic Growth initiative, Bolnisi managed to participate in a specific project and was awarded an EU grant. Meri Abramishvili, Head of the Mayor’s project management department in Bolnisi Municipality, tells us how they managed to create an effective platform for business activities in Bolnisi:

“After the announcement of the grant contest, we started looking for a partner and found it:  the ‘Regional Development Centre’, which is now implementing the project together with us. Initially we began planning together what could be done under this project. Prior to the project development we met various businesses entities, jointly discussed needs and agreed on the concept. The project was therefore developed on the basis of a joint cooperation strategy between the public, business and non-governmental sectors. The EU assessed the project positively and in 2018 we received funding and started implementing the project.”

The project will last for 36 months and help Bolnisi municipality to establish an agricultural centre, which is currently under construction. The centre will be a space for farmers to access mobile services related to local agricultural production, including packaging of fruit, vegetables, cheese, meat and wine.

David Sherazadishvili, Mayor of Bolnisi, talks about the importance of the changes that will be implemented in the municipality with the support of the project:

“The agricultural centre is being created under the project; it will offer farmers services such as the packaging of local products and bottling of wine. The agricultural centre will provide on-site services to interested winemakers and wine cellars for locals to bottle their wine and prepare their products for the market. This will help not only winemakers, but also farmers, who will be able to increase their competitiveness and market prices of their products, to take them not only to local markets, but also export them (e.g. to the EU market) and to improve production quality.

Support to cluster initiatives in the region is also planned under the project. Bolnisi is making efforts to retain its 200-year-old German heritage. Some buildings already have cultural heritage status, and further plans are being developed under the project. Meri Abramishvili shares with us the plans being made to turn Katharinenfeld district into a tourist centre:

“In the framework of the project, the historical district of Katharinenfeld, left behind by German Swabians, will be set up and turned into an attractive centre for tourism. Additionally, the project envisages the upgrading of infrastructure in one small part of this district – Stephania Street. At this stage, the marketing strategy of Stephania Street and the district in general is still under development. We selected four experts on a competitive basis and active work with the public has begun. Representatives of the business sector are also interested. The experts are developing a strategy for how to achieve the objectives and turn Katharinenfeld into an area that is attractive not only for tourists, but also for investors.”

Sherazadishvili says that Bolnisi has big potential for economic growth – “the changes to be implemented under this project will foster big economic changes for Bolnisi; what could be of more importance for the Mayor than the goal of economic growth in the municipality? Bolnisi is following the project’s goals, since this project is one of the instruments designed to enable the economic development of the municipality.”

As Zviad Archuadze, the secretarial coordinator of the Mayors for Economic Growth initiative tells us, about 45 municipalities are enrolled in the initiative throughout the country, and the way they use EU support depends on their activity:

“Being an ‘active mayor’ means that the mayor has to express a willingness to become a member of the initiative and join our club. After becoming a club member the mayor has one obligation: to develop an economic development plan with our help and, even more importantly, together with the local population and local businesses. The plan is inspected by the EU initiative – the secretariat working in this project. The inspection clarifies how properly the mayor fulfils this obligation; if the plan has not been developed correctly, it is rejected. In contrast,  mayors whose plans have been developed properly and assessed positively by the initiative are given the possibility to receive EU grants and use this financial support for the implementation of economic changes in the municipality.” Through this, the Mayors for Economic Growth initiative continues to empower municipalities with the active participation of local self-governments.

Author: Tamar Kuratishvili

Article published in Georgian by newpress.ge.