So…I’m going to try to keep this blog post short since I need to be at the airport in about five hours and up and about in about four. I’ve actually cut the photos down from the usual 41 photo/post average to about 16 so that’s a start. Back to today, which was a business day in Syktyvkar. We started the day at the Business Inkubator and then moved to Mondi Paper. So first at bat, Syktyvkar’s Business Incubator:
This facility is great and I wish every community, in the United States and elsewhere, had this. Here’s the reader’s digest version of what they do: create an environment for small businesses to grow and prosper, providing them all the education and tools neccessary to do so. There is even a grant program, about $20,000, to help small businesses with start up expenses. They must be doing something right because about 80% of the businesses succeed after the first five years. In the United States, almost all (I believe it’s less than 10%) small businesses fail within the first three years. What I found most interesting was that the facility even provides space for the business. Here is one such office in the complex:
This gentleman runs a couple of businesses: security systems and event planning, and quite successfully. The one condition of the free office space is that it is only provided for the first three years of the business’s life. After the three years, the business can stay but they must start paying rent to the Inkubator. There are currently 60 businesses operating in the building.
We quickly broke for lunch at a little cafe. We ate like kings (chicken, mashed potatos, bread, juice) and on the cheap. By total bill came to about $2! I couldn’t believe it! Most meals in the United States of similar size/quality would cost $10-$15. Anyway…a little off subject. Next we were off to Mondi paper, which is a pulp/paper plant just outside Syktyvkar that dominates the Russian market. It’s actually the largest paper mill in Europe. Here is outside the building:
We got to tour the facilities, but first we had to “suit up”. Now…since I work in industrial distribution and we sell alot of personal protection equipment, I was totally familiar with putting a hard hat on. I was even able to adjust the ratchet strap without adult supervision. I’m quite proud of myself for that one. So here is Mary (my host sister who accompanied us today) and I all safety-d up and ready to go:
And here is our entire group (minus the picture taker obviously):
Then we got to tour the plant. It was hard to hear what was being said, so I don’t have much info for you, but enjoy all the really cool pictures! Here’s one picture of the plant:
The entire comples is huge and spans over 1,134 hectares (see….I’m turning Russian/European and now use hectares). Here is another shot over near the wood chipping section:
Our entire group had a nice little photo shoot by the massive chip piles. Here’s Mary in front of the chips:
I even got a few pictures that made it look like my comrades (see….I told you I was turning Russian) actually worked at the plant. Here is one of Brian, Jessie, and Gary:
And another one of Andrei and Stefan (I think):
I loved the tour. Surprisingly, it was my first trip to a paper mill and I loved it! The machinery and processes were alot more technically advanced that I imagined and the whole facility was so automated. It wasn’t what I expected at all. After our tour, we were treated to lunch #2 of the day in the executive dining room:
And it was a full-on, eat until you can’t eat anymore lunch which included a salad course, a soup course, a main dish of pork chops and scalloped potatos, and then tea. Even Kevin, the Shawn Burger devouring champion, couldn’t stomach two lunches of such magnitude. After our lunch with strolled on down to the boardroom where we were privileged to hear a presetation from several of the company’s executives, including Vladimir Bondarevsky, managing board member:
Olga from human resources, and Jared who is a leadership/management advisor:
And before I move on, their board room was seriously swanky. It was complete with microphones, a massive projector screen, five other 50″ television screens, comfy/modern chairs, and a massive table:
I could get used to a board room like that! The presentations painted a great picture of how Mondi operates, who their competitors are, how they’re doing in the market and such. Mondi is rapidly expanding capacity with their STEP project, which was the bulk of today’s presentation. It seemed odd to me how so many Maine paper mills are shutting down, filing for bankruptcy, and cutting production while this one is growing. So I asked Mr. Bondarevsky what he thought Mondi’s competitive advantage was over other mills. I initially thought he would answer that it was their efficiencies which allowed them to expand so I was surprised he said it was the wood costs. Mondi is much more technically savy than Maine mills who use old, dated “Canadian” technology. They actually make fun of the Canadian technology and use it as a slang term for their old equipment. Their newer processes and technology make it much cheaper for them to harvest wood and process it. They’ve also managed to keep costs low and phase out unneccessary processes. In the end, I was thoroughly impressed with Mondi, their operations, and their management team. They treated us top notch, which is a trend in Syktyvkar, and were a wealth of knowledge.
Before I finish for the night, I have two more things to mention. One, I got to go to a really interesting market this evening. Check it out:
It’s like an indoor farmer’s market where each person/vendor has their own little booth. There were vegatable booths, fruit booths, cereal booths (they even sold Cocoa-Puffs), fish booths, drug booths (the Tylenol type not the crazy evening type). I thought it was really interesting and unlike anything I’ve experienced in Maine. My second comment is a shout out to my host family. I’m sure I’ll have more wonderful things to say about Mary and Elena as I leave them tomorrow, but it can’t hurt to tell them how awesome they are here also. They showered me with gifts from their town, a stuffed dog for Goose (which I wanted to call Goose in Russian but it’s actually the same word), and my favorite item, a framed cross stitch that Mary made for me! I love them and they’re amazing and saying goodbye tomorrow is going to be difficult.
That being said, tomorrow we fly out of Syktyvkar and head to St. Petersburg. Our flight leaves at 7 a.m. and we have to be at the airport by 5:40 (the first one not to be confused with the second 5:40). After we arrive in St. Pete (that’s what the locals call it and I love it) we’re going to Peterhof, which is a palace larger than Versailles in France. Afterwards, we check into our hotel and have some free time in the city. Also, our hotel lacks internet so my blog posts may be sporadic. But have no fear…I will be stalking the local McDonalds in the evening because I hear they have the best wi-fi in town!
This concludes today’s blog post, thanks for tuning in.