Author Archives Fiaa User

Dr. Cemil Acar, General Manager at AlbChrome

July 19, 2024
/ / /
Comments Closed

FIAA: Dr. Acar, it’s been more than two years since you started leading Albchrome in Albania. Could you share some insights about your work in the mining industry in Albania? How does it differ from your previous experiences in Türkiye or elsewhere?

Dr. Acar: It is a well-known fact that Albania is located within the world-class mineralization belt, the so-called “Tethyan Belt,” which extends more than 10,000 km from Eastern Europe through Türkiye and across Asia. Thanks to this rich geological occurrence, Albania has significant mineral potential, particularly in terms of chrome and nickel, along with some minor scale base metal mineralization’s, such as copper. Small to medium-scale chrome resources have been exploited for more than 75 years in the region. Nearly half of the ore production has been converted into a semi-end product, ferrochrome, locally for over 40 years, serving the global stainless-steel industry and adding value to the Albanian economy.

However, despite the high quality of the chrome ore and concentrate produced in Albania, except for a few mid-size mines, the mineral occurrences are generally small and fractured, limiting the potential for large and economic resource development. This situation has historically led to the operation of numerous small-scale chrome mines by local miners with limited exploration investment, resulting in many unknowns about the sustainability of the mining operation. This has led to occupational safety and environmental concerns being considered lower priorities. As Yıldırım Group, being a responsible mining company, we aim to raise safety and environmental standards to the highest level by applying the most recent technologies in our mines and smelting facilities. Moreover, we are conducting extensive geological prospection studies across the region to identify economic chrome resources.

Albania also possesses significant nickel laterite resources of moderate quality. Studies have identified more than 300 million tons of nickel ore in the south-eastern parts of Albania. Although there are a number of active nickel licenses, only a few are in operation, supplying nickel ore for the ferronickel plants in Kosovo and North Macedonia. The rest are not in production due to economic considerations, as the ore quality does not support transportation over long distances. In my opinion, developing a large-scale nickel project that converts the resources into intermediate products in an environmentally friendly process to serve the developing battery industry should be considered to utilize the existing nickel potential and benefit Albania’s economy.

In terms of business flow, the main difference between Albania and other developing countries is that the licensing and permitting processes here are relatively more time-consuming and sometimes conflicting. For example, a small building’s construction permit may need to be approved by the Council of Ministers. Moreover, even when all necessary studies are completed and documented, permitting processes that require approval from several ministries and the municipality take considerable time and effort. These processes cause significant delays at every stage of mining investment, from licensing applications and exploration to exploitation. Given this situation, I believe that legal regulations should be reviewed to simplify the processes and resolve the conflicts that prevent mining investors from proceeding more efficiently and make Albania an even more attractive country for FDI.

Albania has a history of success in chromite and ferrochrome production for decades. Its chromite is recognized as the finest quality in the world due to its high chrome to iron ratio. What is Albchrome’s experience in extracting chromium from Albanian chromite and with its trading?

The chrome ore and concentrate in Albania are generally considered high quality, thanks to their high chrome and low iron contents, similar to the chromes from Kazakhstan and Türkiye. The low iron content enables our smelters to produce higher-grade ferrochrome, which is more desirable in the stainless-steel industry for both technical and economic reasons. This helps us differentiate our product from the low-quality ferrochrome produced using South African ore and maintain a competitive market advantage, commanding a premium for our ferrochrome product. We primarily supply our customers in Europe, America, and Japan, who place a higher emphasis on quality, and we are proud to export “Made in Albania” products to these markets.

One of our main disadvantages in Albania is the highly volatile and expensive electricity prices. As ferrochrome production is an energy-intensive process, electricity cost is one of our main cost items. Unpredictable electric prices in the liberal market make it difficult to maintain sustainable production. Despite our higher costs, we can still maintain our competitive advantage and keep our profitability positive thanks to ore quality. Moreover, we are conducting studies to develop our own green energy projects to supply our plants with affordable green energy, which will also help us reduce our carbon footprint, be sustainable, and produce green ferrochrome.

Recently, your company inaugurated new environmental and social investments in the Elbasan ferrochrome plant. Why did you decide to make these investments, and why do you believe companies should invest in becoming more socially responsible?

As a mining and metal company, we are aware of our responsibility to our people, environment, local communities, and regional economy. We believe that a responsible mining and metal corporation should create environmental and social value as well as commercial value to achieve sustainable growth. Therefore, operating with the motto “people first,” we believe that we should provide safe and comfortable standards in the workplace for the health and social welfare of our employees. This is why we started our social investments as soon as we took over the company.

One of our primary goals is to mitigate the environmental impact of our operations to the minimum level and align with European Standards. We achieved this goal with our Dedusting System investment in Elbasan. In the coming years, Albania will gradually harmonize its laws with Europe, and we believe we are a catalyst for this change. In this context, we are confident that all industrial companies will gradually bring their standards to this level. We are proud to be pioneers in this area.

What are some of the best practices that the Yildirim Group brings to Albania, and what are some of the plans for the future of the company in Albania that you can share with us in this interview?

In the field of mining, we intend to elevate mining standards to advanced levels. As a company aware of the challenges of underground mining and having carried out similar works in different countries such as Kazakhstan and Türkiye, we are striving to bring the same standards here. Therefore, we have made significant investments in the Bulqiza region concerning safety, health, and the environment.

With these investments, we are trying to minimize the risk of accidents in the workplace. We are aware that a zero-accident target in mining is possible; we know that all accidents can be prevented when all safety methods are meticulously applied. Our goal is to provide a safe working environment underground to increase the motivation of our workers and encourage them to work comfortably while ensuring that they will return home safely.

We were delighted to welcome you last year in FIAA. What are some of your expectations regarding Albchrome’s membership in our organization?

Your long experience lobbying for the interests of foreign businesses in Albania and the strong network you have already established is always an added value in our collaboration.

Your association with a large number of members in sectors similar to ours helps a lot to contribute to lawmaking, regulations, and protecting and moving forward our sectors. Also, strong networking and synergy between foreign investments in Albania are significant inputs in the further development and integration of the country into the European Union and more experienced economies, sharing know-how, and bringing more sustainable working cultures to Albanian companies.

In your LinkedIn profile, you describe yourself as a strong professional with a Ph.D. degree from Middle East Technical University and the University of Utah. You have various international publications and patents in minerals science. What are some of your research achievements, and what are some advantages that your distinguished researcher profile adds to your role as General Manager?

I strongly believe that success in business life can only be achieved with a devoted team that is highly motivated and hardworking to create value and touch people’s lives. I feel lucky to have always worked with teammates with these characteristics. Therefore, I owe the success we have achieved so far to our devoted teammates and our upper managers and investors who believed in and supported us under all circumstances.

This dedication helped us improve our operations in many aspects, such as setting efficient quality control systems, high health, safety, and environmental HESSR standards, and optimizing production processes to remain sustainably competitive in the challenging ferroalloy market.

Moreover, to develop new technologies and generate know-how, we set up an R&D Center in Türkiye in 2019. Several achievements have been made in terms of process optimization, product development, and cost reduction through this center. One of these achievements is developing a patented chrome enrichment process that enables the utilization of low-grade chrome ores and tailings in a highly efficient and cost-effective manner. We established a facility in Türkiye that perhaps produces the most economical chrome concentrate in the world.

In coordination with our R&D Center in Türkiye, we are conducting similar R&D studies to develop the mining and metals industry with innovative approaches in Albania as well. The researcher profile, equipped with innovation and creativity skills, helps significantly in managerial roles, especially in decision-making and problem-solving.

Read More

Participation in the common effort of around 20 business organizations regarding the draft law on the establishment of a new National Economic Chamber

June 11, 2024
/ /
in News
/
Comments Closed

The draft law on the establishment of a National Economic Chamber in Albania gathered around 20 business organizations in Tirana to discuss on several occasions on its content and necessity. The business organizations have been actively engaged by expressing their concerns on the draft content, directed to the Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and Business Climate, the Prime Minister of Albania, and the Diplomatic Corps in the country.

Read More

FIAA’s business lunch with EU Delegation to Albania and Ambassadors

May 16, 2024
/ /
in News
/
Comments Closed

FIAA’s Board conducted in may 15th a very fruitful business lunch with the Head of the EU Delegation to Albania, Mr. Silvio Gonzato, the Ambassador of Austria, Mr. Christian Steiner, the Ambassador of Greece, Mrs. Konstantina Kamitsi, and Head of Cooperation at the EU Delegation to Albania, Mr. Hubert Perr. The meeting aimed to follow up on the good cooperation that FIAA has established with the EU delegation in Albania since its very start based on the fact that most of FIAA’s businesses are coming from EU countries.

Read More

Mr. Philipp Koronowski, Founder at VEGA GROUP

April 30, 2024
/ / /
Comments Closed

“While building trust in our technology and solutions, we aim contributing to a more sustainable and greener future”

 

FIAA: In our last General Assembly, we got to know you through your impressive candidature speech and your charisma. What is your background, Philipp?

Mr. Koronowski: I hold a degree in electrical power engineering and business administration, specializing in renewable energy technologies from RWTH Aachen University—one of Europe’s premier institutions for electrical engineering. It was here that I met my friend Bruno, who would become my business partner. Together, we envisioned starting a solar construction company in Albania, attracted by its untapped market potential and abundant solar production capabilities. My initial visit to Albania as a tourist solidified my commitment to this venture. Prior to founding Vega Solar, Bruno and I improved our competence in Germany, working across various residential, commercial, and industrial solar projects. This experience equipped us with the essential practical knowledge to establish and grow our business in Albania.

While in a process of rapid growth, Vega Solar has undergone quite a few changes in its structure. We recently heard about the creation of VEGA Group. Could you share in a nutshell what these changes are and what your intentions behind it?

Our venture began with Vega Solar, focusing primarily on EPC turnkey services for solar projects, especially in rooftop installations, in a then-undeveloped market. Over the past five years, our company has seen remarkable growth. While continuing to serve the rooftop/self-consumption sector, we have expanded our reach to include utility-scale projects over the last eighteen months. To optimize our operations, we restructured our services into distinct entities, each functioning independently yet synergistically, leading to the transition from Vega Solar to VEGA GROUP. This new structure comprises:

  • VEGA Solar: EPC for rooftop/ self-consumption projects.
  • VEGA Energy: EPC for utility-scale projects/ solar parks.
  • VEGA Electric: Dedicated to operation and maintenance services.
  • VEGA Charging: Aiming to establish the largest EV charging infrastructure in Albania.

Looking ahead, we plan to diversify further into the EV charging market and explore expanding our photovoltaic operations beyond Albania. All these initiatives will be managed under the umbrella of VEGA Group.

As a quite young company operating in the energy field, you place a lot of emphasis on marketing. What is the rationale behind this?

In a marketplace where understanding of renewable energy solutions is growing, marketing plays a crucial role in differentiating ourselves and establishing our brand image. Our goal is to build something that is both significant and sustainable. We are concentrating on VEGA’s trajectory over the next 20 to 30 years. Therefore, branding and the company’s image are paramount. That’s why we heavily emphasize marketing; we do not wish to be recognized merely as an EPC turnkey service provider of solar projects but as a leader in sustainable and renewable solutions.

We believe it’s essential to communicate not just the benefits of our products and services but also the long-term value they bring to consumers and the planet. Through focused marketing efforts, we aim to enlighten consumers about the advantages of solar energy and sustainable choices, while building trust in our technology and solutions. This approach not only helps in increasing our market presence but also encourages a broader shift in public perception towards renewable energy, contributing to a more sustainable and greener future.

How has Albania’s business climate supported or hindered your business growth? Would you recommend Albania to other investors in the photovoltaic field?

The rapid growth of our company, scaling to over 100 employees within just five years, is a testament to the favorable business climate in Albania. The country’s potential in the renewable energy sector, particularly in photovoltaics, is immense. For investors willing to navigate the initial complexities, Albania presents substantial opportunities for growth and impactful contributions to the renewable energy landscape. I strongly recommend it to potential investors, given its excellent solar power production capabilities, competitive installation costs, and advantageous market conditions.

You have joined FIAA recently. What do you expect from the membership in this business organization in support of your business?

The Foreign Investors Association of Albania (FIAA) is an indispensable organization for investors aiming to expand in Albania. It encompasses key stakeholders from various sectors, offering a robust network for business connections. Our involvement in the energy sector makes these interactions especially valuable.

We have dual expectations from our membership with FIAA. Firstly, we plan to benefit FIAA’s extensive network to foster partnerships that will propel our renewable energy initiatives throughout the region. Secondly, we expect that FIAA’s advocacy efforts will help shape a more valuable regulatory framework for renewable energy investments.

Such advancements are likely to streamline project implementations and enhance the sustainability of Albania’s energy landscape. We are also eager to engage in FIAA’s diverse programs and workshops, which are excellent venues for sharing ideas and industry best practices. We are optimistic about the prospects of our collaboration with FIAA.

Read More

FIAA’s reaction on the Draft Instruction “On Implementing the Agreements on Avoiding Double Taxation and Preventing Fiscal Evasion” prepared by the Ministry of Finance

April 23, 2024
/ /
in News
/
Comments Closed

FIAA reacted on the notification of the Ministry of Finance on the draft instruction “On Implementing the Agreements on Avoiding Double Taxation and Preventing Fiscal Evasion” by collecting and sharing the suggestions of its members, elaborated in detail by its Tax Committee.

Read More

Mr. Elvis Ponari, Chief Executive Officer of SIGAL Uniqa Pension Fund

April 4, 2024
/ / /
Comments Closed

“I do see a trend towards greater digitization and innovation in the insurance and pension sectors”

FIAA: You are the Chief Executive Officer of SIGAL Uniqa Pension Fund. How challenging is to operate in a field which is still rather unknown to the Albanian citizens? Why does it make sense to look for private pension solutions in Albania and what is the Austrian experience in this regard?

Mr. Ponari: Operating in a field that is still unfamiliar to many Albanians can indeed be challenging, but it also presents an opportunity to educate and inform citizens. Private pension solutions offer individuals the chance to take control of their financial future, rather than relying solely on state pensions. By understanding the benefits of private pensions and dispelling any superstitions or misconceptions, Albanians can make right decisions that will benefit them in the long run.

 

One of the recent achievements in your sector has been the passing of the law on private pension funds. As the Chairperson of the Association of the Life and Pension Insurance and Investment Fund Companies, did you have to use any secret handshakes or special passwords to get this law passed?

While I can’t reveal any secret methods, I can say that lobbying for the law on private pension funds was rather a collaborative effort method. The Association of the Life and Pension Insurance and Investment Fund Companies worked determinedly to educate policymakers and the public about the importance of private pensions in ensuring financial security in retirement. It was a challenging process, but ultimately a rewarding one, as the law has had a positive impact on the industry and the people of Albania.

 

Your initial professional experience has been with SIGAL Uniqa Albania. The company, which is one of the early members of FIAA, recently celebrated its 25th anniversary and has been confirmed as the leading company in the insurance sector in Albania. What are some of the most impressive statistics that you can share from the insurance market development in the past 25 years and SIGAL Uniqa Albania’s contribution to it?

SIGAL Uniqa Albania’s contribution to the insurance market development in the past 25 years has been significant. The company has been at the forefront of introducing innovative products and services that have helped drive growth and increase insurance penetration in Albania. While I haven’t heard of anyone insuring their mustache or pet rock, I can share some impressive statistics, such as the significant increase in the number of insured individuals and the overall insurance premium volume, which have both grown steadily over the past 25 years.

 

As someone deeply involved in the insurance and pension sectors, what are some key trends or innovations you foresee shaping the industry in Albania in the coming years?

While I can’t predict the future with certainty, I do see a trend towards greater digitization and innovation in the insurance and pension sectors. We’re already seeing the use of AI and data analytics to streamline processes and enhance customer experiences. As technology continues to evolve, who knows what exciting developments lie ahead! Perhaps one day we’ll be insuring our hoverboards against crashes and injuries, or even setting up retirement funds for our robot assistants!

 

You often appear in events wearing Austrian traditional costumes, which to people who know how Austrians value their costumes and how they enjoy wearing them in any type of occasion, is a clear sign that you are personally related to Austria. Could you share about your background and your connection to Austria apart from leading one Austrian-Albanian business?

While I can assure you that I am not an undercover Austrian spy, I do have a deep appreciation for Austrian culture and traditions. Wearing traditional costumes, is my way of celebrating and honoring that rich heritage. Plus, who wouldn’t want to rock dirndl or lederhosen at a party?!

 

With your background and experience, what advice would you give to young professionals looking to enter the field of insurance or finance in Albania?

My advice to young professionals would be to approach their careers with curiosity, resilience, and yes, a good sense of humor! The insurance and finance industries can be complex and challenging, but having a positive outlook and the ability to find humor in tough situations can go a long way. Plus, who doesn’t appreciate a colleague who can lighten the mood during a tense negotiation or a stressful day at the office?!

Read More

Colliers certifies the first BREEAM Excellent Building in Albania

April 2, 2024
/ /
in News
/
Comments Closed

FIAA’s member, Colliers has announced the prestigious achievement of Park Avenue Tower being awarded the first BREEAM green certification in Albania, achieving an Excellent rating by BRE, the British Institute renowned for its stringent standards in commercial building sustainability (link: https://bregroup.com/products/breeam/).  Throughout the entire certification process Park Avenue Tower was advised by Colliers, licensed sustainability advisers by BRE.

Read More