Turkey’s third largest city, “the Pearl of the Aegean” where you may witness the traces of many ancient civilizations along with a modern city scape, has been a very strategic spot of commerce for centuries and now the city has even greater expectations thanks to the bypassed Expo!
Izmir is a major commercial and industrial center in Turkey. Located on the west coast by the Aegean Sea, the city has been blessed with a key strategic position, with a glamorous ancient heritage, and with enchanting scenic beauty. As the capital of the Aegean Region, Izmir is very important for manufacturing and trade. The international sea port is the most important commerce spot in Turkey and today, the port delights 70,000 businessmen of Izmir by 15 million tons of load and unload every year. Its rank land surrounding the city, 19 industrial estates, two free zones and seven universities and noteworthy high quality labor force make it impossible for the city to be in disgrace with foreign investment and international trade. The city owes its experience in international commerce to its Levantine population which has been living in Izmir for more than 400 years. The Levantine families have pioneered improvements in arts and literature as well as in reaching a high quality in business, broadcasting Aegean products to overseas markets, enhancing the banking and maritime businesses. The multicultural texture has fostered sophistication, modernism, liberalism and secularism to the citizens of Izmir where people from different cultures and religions have been coexisting side by side peacefully for hundreds of years. Izmir people enjoy the perfect peace and high living standards that the city offers, with great pride of being citizens of the most open-minded city of Turkey. Despite the fact that Izmir is responsible for 25% of total import and export in Turkey, the city surprisingly has a very slow growth rate and has limited opportunities for employment which causes a “Brain Drain”, mostly to Istanbul.
WHAT CAUSES THE SLOWDOWN IN IZMIR AND HOW LEADING LOCAL BUSINESSMEN EVALUATE THE CURRENT SITUATION
Rebii Akdurak, CEO of Mako Trans LTD and the president of the Izmir Italian Chamber of Commerce indicates, “Commerce in Izmir is stuck within a narrow frame depending on over slowness and care in decision or action of businessmen.” According to Ali Pehlivanoglu, the CEO of the biggest local market chains PEHLIVANOGLU, politics are also contributing to this slowdown; “Lately, growth in Izmir has witnessed a slowdown due to adverse political views of the city and the inclination of businessmen towards only in advance success guaranteed areas.“ Istanbul is a city offering faster breakthrough in business compared to Izmir for sure. Yet, what Izmir offers is a priority for many; peace of mind and high quality living standards. The regular workers in the city all agree that Istanbul would be a better choice in terms of job opportunities, yet Izmir is a city that is much easier and enjoyable to live in, despite the sluggish business life. However, too much peace of mind damps down the “work style” of Izmir, where most businessmen settle for what they have instead of taking risks for bigger investments. Ahmet Önder, the owner and CEO of Renk Halı emphasizes, “the gracious living has been a disadvantage for Izmir in terms of business. People are more likely to settle for less instead of taking risks and having more, as if they have been purged of their ambitions, and this could be a consequence of the ‘relaxed life’ that Izmir is offering.”
LACK OF GOVERNMENT SUPPORT FOR THE STRONGEST FORTRESS OF THE MAIN OPPOSITION PARTY?
Also lack of government support and private investment constitute boundaries to a more rapid growth for Izmir. Ahmet Senocak, the CEO of Klimasan, defines the Izmir citizens as “ ..bound up in their freedom and rebel against the government; so most of the time not demanding enough.” and he also states “Izmir is far above average in terms of conception and consequently very critical of the government. What we need is to create niche projects for the development of the city and demand government support even if we are on the opposition side in terms of political views.” To make up for deficient government support, local businessmen should take a giant step forward and be more insistent in their demand. However, first they need wider visions and more willingness to take risks, followed by generating groundbreaking projects in benefit of the development of Izmir. Consequently, they will have stronger arguments to prove that the investment’s rate of return will be high. Hilmi Ugurtas, the president of the executive board of Izmir Atatürk Organised Industrial Region suggests, “The local administration and businessmen should build stronger relationships with the government, and make pressure for bigger budget allocations to Izmir.” Also Rebii Akdurak supports the idea that, “The city faces lack of private investment but it comes along with government support. So what we need first is that the government allocates more budget for the development of Izmir and we should definitely not wait for them to take action, but iterate our demand until we get what we want.”
THE TWO HIGHLIGHTS OF THE CITY: THE PORT AND THE CULTIVABLE LAND
Even though the port hosts a satisfying amount of trade, it is a common view that expanding the port capacity is necessary for bigger business opportunities. Together with the port, another highlight in Izmir is the fertile lands surrounding the city and offering a great productive potential. In fact one of the better prospects for Izmir is that the city will become an epicenter for agricultural production. Ömer Yüngül, the CEO of Vestel Group states, “Izmir has the potential to become a center core for agricultural production of Turkey with its fertile land and high quality labor force, if we can hopefully improve the sector.”
TOURISM IS A PROSPECTIVE SUCCESS FOR IZMIR
Besides the great potential in agriculture, another anticipated success for Izmir will be in tourism and the service sectors. As a 8500 year old city, Izmir has much to offer its visitors; considerable historical heritage like the Agora, Ephesus, the House of the Virgin Mary, and beautiful places nearby for summer vacations such as Cesme, Kusadasi, Foca, and the wine producing little village of Sirince. Concurrently, the healing thermal water known for its curing power, offers extensive medical treatment which is likely to make a big contribution to the city’s reputation in tourism. Alex Baltazzi, the president of the Aegean Travel Agencies Associations, and the owner of Karavan Travel, indicates, “Izmir has great potential in tourism, yet still has a lot of deficiencies. And all the projects to improve tourism should be realized with the guidance of experts of the sector.” The city center hosts very few of big hotels, and according to Deniz Özkardes, Executive Board Member of Mövenpick Hotel Izmir, “Izmir definitely needs at least 10 more big hotels so we attract more foreign tourists. The occupancy rate of our hotel has been increasing up to 90% lately, and we owe this increase to our valid method of management. The city has great potential to become a tourism center yet we need bigger investments and rational tactics.” What the Chairman of the Executive Board of Izmir Chamber of Commerce, Ekrem Demirtas, indicates is very promising for tourism in Izmir, “We are planning to address the deficiency in tourism by a big project about the port. The plan is to turn the port into a ‘home port’ which means that Izmir will no longer be an 8-hour stop for the cruise tours, but will be the starting and ending point. Consequently, tourists will come here and stay in the city for one day before the tour starts, and also one day after it ends. So they will witness that Izmir is a city worth experiencing.” According to Deniz Barçın, the CEO of BARÇIN SPOR, the biggest sports store chain in Turkey, “If we had an Izmir soccer team playing in the first league, it would create great advantage for the tourism sector, but unfortunately we do not. When we put our effort to use our potential, we succeed for sure. For example, Izmir was very successful in hosting the Universiade 2005 and I think it was the foreshadowing indicator that we would do great in the candidacy process for EXPO 2015 as well.”
THE CANDIDACY FOR EXPO 2015 BLESSED THE CITY
The need to push forward in business is being expressed in clear terms by leading names within the private sector as; increasing the number of corporate enterprises, taking more risks and investing more money in Izmir, widening the narrow visions of local entrepreneurs, and having richer publicity abroad to attract both foreign investors and tourists. Tunç Soyer, the Mayor of the Seferihisar District of Izmir and the former General secretary for the Izmir EXPO committee suggests “Izmir must be a city offering greater business opportunities. As we are the bridge of intercultural dialogue between the east and the west, we need to come out of our shell and keep in mind that as a four million populated family, we share equal responsibilities to develop this city. There is not just one party to rely on, but the state, the government, the local administrations, the non-governmental organizations, businessmen and the citizens must work all together side by side to achieve our common goals.” To defeat all the deficiencies Izmir is facing now, and turning the city into a global health, tourism and trade center, EXPO 2015 would be the greatest opportunity that the city could grab. EXPO would come along with an estimated $15 billion of investment during the six-months of the exhibition. The idea of the candidacy was pioneered by the Chairman of the Executive Board of Izmir Chamber of Commerce, Ekrem Demirtas. Candidacy for EXPO was a part of the 15 year-plan developed by a team of 30 experts aiming to make Izmir a “global brand” by hosting international events. As one of the world’s most considerable, effective and longest events, EXPO would be a huge step forward for Izmir both to become a global brand and to meet the needs of the city. So Izmir competed as a candidate city to host EXPO 2015 with the theme “New Routes to a Better World/Health for All”, but lost the battle against Milan.
NO CITY HAS EVER WON THE EXPO ON ITS FIRST TIME OF CANDIDACY
In EXPO history, no city has stood for candidacy for the first time and won. So It was no surprise that Izmir will not host EXPO. However, the city accomplished an unexpectedly great success during the candidacy process, and was a very challenging competitor for Milan. According to the authorities and local businessmen who worked very hard together, all agree that EXPO is a tactical battle, you just need to know how to make your moves, and Izmir had everything else except the experience. Besides the requisition of Izmir itself to be the candidate city, according to Hilmi Ugurtas, “the weather, the scenic beauty, the historical heritage, cultured, modern and democratic people of Izmir were also taken into consideration when selecting which city to stand as candidate with. Izmir was already experienced with international events since the city hosts Turkey’s first international fair.” EXPO was a race occasion for Turkey to witness all the authorities working together. It would change the texture of the city immensely and Izmir would have government support more than ever. However, there is nobody who can claim that it was a waste of time and money, since EXPO had numerous contributions for the development of the city even with the candidacy process. Rebii Akdurak, Tunç Soyer and Ekrem Demirtas all agree that the candidacy for EXPO, has provided a great publicity for both Izmir and Turkey abroad, a great experience for hosting international events, and a great example of how powerful we can get when we combine our efforts to achieve a common goal. During the candidacy, a lot of projects were planned such as; creating a major exhibition area, a high-speed train connection between major cities, and further developing the existing metro system and the recently improved airport. Even though Izmir will not be hosting EXPO 2015, most of the projects will be realized over time. We can say that EXPO has been an opportunity to highlight the deficiencies of the city and for the authorities to create projects to eliminate them.
EXPO 2015: A BIG MOVE TO SUCCEED IN EXPO 2020
Tunç Soyer underlines “with EXPO, we gained considerable experience and publicity. If we do not stand as a candidate for the following EXPO, that will be the real loss because now we have trained, experienced people ready to make a stronger move and I believe that we will have even a greater chance to win this time.” The common desire of the authorities, local businessmen, regular workers and citizens is that Izmir will be a candidate to host the EXPO 2020, and will be fully prepared beforehand thanks to its EXPO 2015 experience. The proud citizens of Izmir are ready to put all their effort to make their precious, dynamic, lively, cosmopolite, modern, liberal and “sui generis” city a global brand. Meanwhile, they are more than welcoming everybody who wants to veve peace of mind and enjoy the beautiful Pearl of the Aegean; Izmir.
Photos. The images are courtesy of Gökce Sönmez.
Published in the hard-copy of Work Style Magazine, Winter 2009