The Private Sector Development Project (PSD), a project supported by the USAID, is working on a four-year, $6 million project aimed to empower private sector firms in 12 municipalities that are located in south and southeast Serbia. This is good news for Serbian Business.
The plan includes working directly with the Serbian government, while the National Agency for Regional Development (NARD) carries out the plan through contacting the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs).
These agencies have created jobs, increased local business sales, and increased exports as well.
One business in Serbia that has benefited immensely is Ukras Ltd., a small company based in South Serbia that manufactures protective gloves. The company was started during the economically hard times of the 1990’s. The company’s former Owner, Svetozar Milovanović, has faced many difficulties — for an excess of 20 years — trying to get his protective glove business to prosper.
Historically, it has not been easy to do business in Serbia, especially in underdeveloped municipalities, according to Milovanović. “With the economy struggling with liquidity and delayed payment collection, it was very difficult to find reliable buyers.”
The economic problems that Serbian businesses face have been well documented by the World Bank, who reports on the gross domestic product (GDP) of every country. A country’s GDP is measured by “dividing the their gross domestic product, adjusted by purchasing power parity, by the total population.” In the year 1999, the GDP in Serbia reached an all-time low of 3150.46 USD.
The years following this drastically low statistic have seen the GDP in Serbia fluctuate regularly. According to the World Bank, the GDP in Serbia was last recorded in 2015 and “is [only]equivalent to 45 percent of the world’s average.” These findings make it crystal clear why Serbian businesses like Ukras Ltd. have fought an uphill battle for so long.
Thanks to the impactful PSD, Ukras Ltd. has been able to thrive and attract a variety of new consumers. During the year of 2004, the USAID supplied Milovanović with an innovative machine for vulcanizing protective gloves. This has allowed the company to improve the quality of its manufacturing process by utilizing new technology and also helped them obtain “CE marking” in 2014. CE marking guarantees that “their product complies with the essential requirements of the relevant European health, safety and environmental protection legislation.”
This newly acquired certification has garnered attention from large and wealthy clients who are prohibited from purchasing products without the CE mark. Tigar — a Serbian tire manufacturer, and Fiat Automobiles Serbia (previously known as Zastava Automobiles) were the first two companies that requested large, consistent orders from Ukras Ltd. However, the company’s biggest boost came in 2015 when the company participated in the Slovenian Tool Trade Fair, courtesy of USAID.
This allowed Milovanović to network with numerous companies and potential customers alike. Through his persistence, he was able to establish a monthly sales contract for 15,000 pairs of customized protective gloves from Gorenje, a Slovenian company operating in Serbia. The monthly revenue acquired from the sale was worth $5,100 or 555,000 Serbian dinars. “Our production increased by 40 to 50 percent. We are barely able to meet demands and are producing in 24-hour shifts,” said Milovanović.
All of this success has pushed the company to broaden its horizons and look outside of its local market. The company is currently trying to obtain “certifications for other key production standards, including ISO 9001 (quality management system) and ISO 14000 (environmental systems).” If they can achieve their goal by obtaining these specific certifications, it will hopefully broaden the network of their consumers and allow them to export more goods to foreign markets.
Milovanović’s daughter, Tijana assumed control of the company after his leave. This is an incredible feat because in Serbian society patriarchal dominance is a cultural normality. Ukras Ltd. now owns production facilities in one South Serbia’s poorest municipalities, Vladičin Han and is run entirely by women. Tijana has officially taken the reins from her father and the future of Ukras Ltd. looks very promising.
– Terry J. Halloran