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Krakow's mini-boom in IT attracts Polish and foreign techies

Some 70 multinational firms have opened, employing 20,000 skilled workers – Poles and foreigners alike – in Krakow, which some call a small Silicon Valley of Central Europe.

By Staff writer / November 2, 2012

Four employees at Element14, a Krakow online electronic parts firm. Left to right: Polish born Tomasz Wasilewski moved from Warsaw, Marianne Kuukkanen from Finland, Alessandro Lombardi came from Italy after not finding a job there, and Jaroslaw Grabon returned to his native Poland after working for years in Munich. They were intrigued by Krakow's IT 'buzz.'

Robert Marquand /The Christian Science Monitor


Krakow, Poland

One of the clearest illustrations of “brain gain” in Poland comes from the southern city of Krakow which is experiencing a mini-boom in information technology – at a time when much of Europe’s tech scene is in a windless ocean.

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The global reverse migration – turning brain drain to brain gain in many countries – is obvious here: Some 70 IT and multinational firms have opened, employing 20,000 skilled workers – Poles and foreigners alike. Cisco opened in May, and its 90-person staff will soon climb to 500. Google moved an R&D office here. State Street, Capgemeni and Lufthansa, Shell, Brown Brothers, and Philip Morris, to name a few, are all present.

The hopeful call Krakow a small Silicon Valley of Central Europe. And the buzz here is a magnet for brain gain: It’s a small oasis of Polish bohemia with 14 colleges and universities, and a bar-arts-and-film scene, and – not destroyed like Warsaw in World War II – it retains its Austro-Hungarian architectural charm.

In reporting for The Christian Science Monitor’s “brain gain” project, I met a cluster of young and bright reverse migrants here in a translucent glass-and-steel tech-park. Recent-hires at the British firm Element14, an online interface provider for electronic parts sales, they are part of the vanguard of Poland’s brain gain. Their profiles tell as much about this city’s bright future as the vibrant draw it is at the moment.

Jaroslaw Grabon, a software engineer, was born in Poland, but his family moved to Germany. Now, in an admittedly “wrenching” decision, he’s come back to Krakow, leaving a flat and friends in Munich. He says he got a call from a Krakow headhunter for Shell, and decided, out of curiosity and interest in the country, to move back.

“I felt better in Poland than Germany in ways I can’t easily explain, but it was a big decision. I left the whole family. I sent out 120 CVs and got 80 positive replies. Gdansk was a possibility but I decided on Shell. Then moved here [to Element14].”

Alessandro Lombardi couldn’t get work in his native Italy – but, here, he’s wired-in.

Tomasz Wasilewski worked in Warsaw for a Silicon Valley firm that employed many people like him, offspring of émigré Poles who went abroad earlier. But he was sold on Krakow and moved here, partly because of the Krakow buzz and partly for the experience.

A young Finnish woman, Marianne Kuukkanen, arrived this year and says that the city’s multicultural environment requires looking “more closely at oneself, and I think this has made me more efficient and aware at my job and with others.”

They report that the multicultural work environment, the new business models being employed, and the need to stay current in tech developments pipe a new and different mentality into Krakow.

“Everyone who is here can move somewhere else if they want, to any other site. We are not bound by nationality. Poles who return have a much bigger influence than elsewhere and they know this. It is a factor in their choice. Because it is a smaller setting,” says Wojciech Burkot, of his hometown, Krakow. He, himself, is a part of the Krakow buzz as head of Google’s R&D unit here, a reverse IT migrant who came home after years abroad to wrestling with increasing Google’s search engine speed.


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