Tech Revolution : Nyíregyháza

"The transfer process has come to an end, but our real journey is just starting - we definitely do not intend to stop here. We have lots of plans for the future to make Nyíregyháza a better place for businesses. We also plan to continue our cooperation and exchange experience with our transfer friends"

Nyíregyháza is a medium sized city, located in North East Hungary, in the proximity of the Romanian and Ukrainian and Slovakian border, with a population of nearly 120.000. After 2010 the city has gone through significant economic growth, mainly due to high levels of public spending and major investments made by a number of multinational companies. The unemployment rate has decreased gradually to the (pre-pandemic) level of 2,6%. Nyiregyhaza's Living conditions, public infrastructure and services have also improved considerably – offering residents an excellent quality of life.

Despite all these improvements, however, in the middle of the last decade there were a few warning signs that overshadowed this positive picture: Most people were employed in low-income jobs; the SME sector was weak with limited innovation capacity and highly educated young people left the city and never returned. On top of all that, the enterprise support structure was fragmented, and economic development was not seen as a top priority by local decision-makers.

The TechRev Programme

Nyíregyháza was offered the possibility to participate in a new URBACT Action Planning Network led by Barnsley, UK, focusing on the development of the digital economy. Joining Techtown was more of a lucky coincidence than a conscious decision, but it started an intense learning journey of our local team. Using the URBACT method and involving like-minded local stakeholders, we prepared our Integrated Action Plan, which has defined the interventions necessary to futureproof the local economy and, especially the SME sector. The IAP was “in the right place at the right time” and helped to shape and orient many of the economic development projects implemented by Nyíregyháza from there on.

One of the flagship initiatives we planned was the creation of an enterprise hub with the rehabilitation of a former military barracks building. So, when the opportunity arose to work again with the Barnsley team in another URBACT cooperation project – this time a Transfer Network, we did not hesitate and joined 5 other partner cities. Together with these cities we embarked on a journey to learn from the experiences of Enterprising Barnsley and the Digital Media Centre. After all, the Digital Media Centre inspired the creation of the Enterprise Hub in Nyíregyháza, so, adapting their “business model” seemed like a logical next step.

It was the immersive bootcamp organised in Barnsley in January 2019 that really kickstarted the transfer process for us. During the event we received lots of inspiration, we better understood the context of the good practice - the big picture, while we also realised that such a transformation takes a long time – you definitely cannot expect overnight success. In addition, by speaking to the people who actually worked with the local businesses we started to see how the various elements of the good practice worked in practice.

Outcome: We Have A Building!

We had a building, a tried and tested business model, a potential service portfolio – but we had to realise that despite the commitment of the mayor, the two most important ingredients - a team and an approved budget – were still missing. But one thing we learned from the Barnsley example, was that even though there are occasional hiccups, you should press on and never give up. So, we kept on trying to convince the decision-makers; put together a business plan clearly showing the costs and benefits of running a unified economic development organisation in Nyíregyháza; kept telling the Barnsley story and even referred to examples of nearby cities having such an organisation in place.

In December 2019, our proposal was submitted to and discussed at the Council Meeting… and it was unanimously approved. Fast forward to Autumn, 2020: Nyíregyháza has a dedicated economic development organisation, led by David and a team of 5 talented young people. The team started to adapt and tailor to the local circumstances various business support services learned in Barnsley. David is working closely with other business support organisations present in the city, as well as with the University and the Vocational Training Centre to eliminate overlaps and build an efficient, easy-to-access business support ecosystem. Promising discussions are under way with some investors who consider Nyíregyháza as a possible location

Businesses have already moved in the new enterprise hub, and whenever the pandemic situation allows, the building is buzzing with life, hosting various exciting events for local entrepreneurs.

Concluding Thoughts

It has been a long journey for us – we started out almost 5 years ago, when we joined the TechTown URBACT Action Planning Network. By offering a platform and a blueprint for cooperation, URBACT has been a catalyst in our learning journey all along, and we are now irrevocably a member of the ever-growing URBACT family. And, as a family member, it was good to observe how URBACT has also evolved over time. We learned a lot from them, as well: by applying the URBACT method of participative planning, we discovered a number of like-minded people locally (we do not like to call them stakeholders, sorry) who joined us and provide support during the transfer process. Specific methods aside, URBACT – by not just talking but also walking the walk - has also taught us that if you want to progress, innovate, you need to be ready to experiment, as well as to fail occasionally. Because it is by trying new things and learning from your mistakes how a city can constantly become better.

Learning Log