Foreign investment in the independent republics of the former Soviet Union is becoming more commonplace. Last month the Business Information Service for the Newly Independent States, a unit of the U.S. Department of Commerce, reported on one particular special economic zone (SEZ) in Tomsk, a highly developed city in Siberia (a four-hour plane ride from Moscow). It was the only region in Siberia to be considered for technology development; other new sites included St. Petersburg, Zelenograd and Dubna City, the latter two in the Moscow region. All four are listed under a Russian federal government competition to choose regions for new SEZes for development this year.
The SEZ concept eases requirements for economic activity inside the special zones. The SEZes are slated to operate with incentives for 20 years. Granting special-zone status implies certain scientific and industrial specialization in the chosen territories. While Zelenograd specializes in microelectronics, Tomsk focuses on developing technologies related to materials science.
Tomsk universities are traditionally rated among the best in Russia. More than 3,500 specialists in electronics, IT, control systems, chemistry, biotechnology, medicine and pharmacy graduate each year, and their skills are available for application within the local high-tech zone, according to the Commerce Department unit.
Don't like the cold? Take Armenia instead. Foreign investment has been steadily increasing there, from $70 million in 2001 to $217 million in 2004, according to a report from the U.S. embassy in Yerevan, the capital of this republic in the south of the Russian Federation. Now an independent nation, Armenia has a constitution prohibiting foreign individuals from owning land, but not foreign businesses. The former Soviet republic of 3.2 million people was the electronics center of the U.S.S.R., and today it still aspires to be at the forefront of science. One of its successes is the Cosmic Ray Division located on Mount Aragats, outside Yerevan, and affiliated with the Stanford Linear Acceleration Center. The organization is a world leader in cosmic-ray readings, essential to space satellites and earth-bound electronic equipment. The CRD has also been working with other nations, including the United States, for weather reports and predictions. American high-tech companies that have subsidiaries in Armenia include intellectual-property provider Virage Logic and EDA vendor Ponte Solutions.
Both Tomsk in Siberia and Yerevan in Armenia look like good bets. Any takers?
By Nicolas Mokhoff (email@example.com), research editor at EE Times