Valmiera is growing too fast for its own good

Valmiera, a city in Latvia's northeast, can't keep up with the pace of its own growth and experiences problems tied to lack of employees, housing and business infrastructure, reports LTV's De Facto prior to the 2017 municipal elections.

There are 996 jobs per 1,000 residents in Valmiera. Around 7,000 people make daily commutes to the city. The GDP per capita in Valmiera is the second highest in Latvia at €13,246.

Valmiera is the most perspective place outside Rīga for young doctors, said Artūrs Aleksis, a surgeon who recently moved to Valmiera from Rīga to work at the local Vidzeme hospital. Furthermore, the city has a growing potential and infrastructure -- and even the people seem happier, he claimed.

However it's very difficult to find a place to live in Valmiera. There are very few rental apartments, and prices often rival that of the capital. The asking price for a two-room flat with stove-based heating can be as high as €250 a month.

Of the employees at the largest company of the Vidzeme cultural region - Valmieras stikla šķiedra - only 58% are locals. A fifth come from neighboring regions but a further 16% come from even more remote places, including Rīga.

The company added 80 new jobs last year, but it was difficult to fill them. There was a lack of skilled employees, and even when some were found it could take up to six months for them to find a place to live.

"Last year I spoke to all the municipalities around here. Really, [I spoke to people] within a radius of about 50-70 km, thinking maybe they have a place to live ... the responsiveness was very low," said Doloresa Volkopa, the HR director at the company.

Property developers aren't interested as people want to rent, not buy apartments in Valmiera.

Therefore the municipality voted, a year and a half ago, to build its own rental apartments. Several apartment buildings with a total 150 flats will be built for the funds procured with a 25-year loan. 

"The idea is that this is the first pilot project in Latvia. Many are following our progress closely. We discussed with the State Treasury and others. They all have said - it's very good that you're doing this, that you're setting the region's construction [industry] in motion. But you have to deal with it yourself. It's a business project," said Valmiera's mayor Jānis Baiks, who was asked to become Prime Minister last year

However the flats, to be finished next year, aren't likely to be enough to solve the city's problems.

The city is growing faster than its infrastructure. Furthermore it has no place to develop. Valmiera bought about 100 hectares of forested land from the neighboring Beverīna region in order to create an industrial park. Locals protested the decision.

About €15m in EU funds are to be invested into this place, close to the railroad, for setting up infrastructure so that new companies could arrive and existing ones could expand.

"Valmiera is developing well," Aivars Flemings, the deputy chairman at a consultative business body, told De Facto. It seems to him that "finally Valmiera has understood that business alone will not bring new investors and create new jobs. The city is starting to get more involved itself".

However the flourishing city life does have unwanted effects. Parking spots are lacking, especially at the city center. The city will order research over how to solve the problem, but the introduction of paid parking is out of the question.

Valmiera is currently ruled by the For Valmiera and Vidzeme party together with Unity, which have 10 of the 13 seats in the City Council.

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