Russia: Special Report - Regional take-off

Russia's fast-growing regions promise much for foreign investors: they are resource-rich and hungry for private investment.

by World Business

Kendrick White is something of a pioneer among foreign investors in Russia, who, historically, have focused on the western tip of Russia, Moscow and St Petersburg. White's firm, Marchmont Capital Partners, believes the next frontier of investment is in the regions: "Regions are a bit of a black box. They haven't had the culture to do much self-presentation and to try and seek out investment. That is changing as companies from Moscow and abroad reach out to them. Now regional firms have to adapt and modernise to survive. So where two years ago I was pleading with local firms to let me invest, now they are much more hungry for capital."

A good example is Tatarstan in the south-west of Russia, on the Volga. Tatarstan has large reserves of oil, and a rich legacy of petrochemical companies and other large industries left over from the Soviet era. However, until now it has been a closed region, in which the economy was dominated by the local administration. That's changing now, according to Rustam Minnikhanov, prime minister of the region: "Our region is one of the most prosperous and fast growing in Russia. We have some of the best companies in Russia based here, such as Tatneft, the fifth-largest oil company in Russia; Nizhnekamskneftekhim, the largest petrochemical company; Kamaz, the largest manufacturer of trucks; and Akbars Bank, the 10th biggest bank in Russia. All these companies are now actively seeking foreign partners for joint ventures or for equity investment."

As the region's supply of oil reserves begins to dwindle, it is embarking on a huge programme to develop its petrochemical facilities so that all Tatar oil is refined in the region. The biggest project of this type is the $5 billion development of the NNPZ refining facility in Nizhnekamsk, in the east of Tatarstan. It will refine oil from Tatneft, owned by the regional administration, which will have a 40% stake in the project. The plan for the facility was developed by Tatneft in co-operation with global engineering company Foster Wheeler.

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