The North West planning region has the lowest socio-economic performance in the country, with a gross domestic product (GDP) of €3.2bn, which represents 6.6% of the national GDP – the lowest among the planning regions (Eurostat, 2018). The regional GDP per capita in PPS is also the lowest in Bulgaria, amounting to €8,600, compared to an average of €14,200 for the country (Eurostat, 2018). In addition, the GDP per capita in PPS represents barely 29% of the EU average for 2016, and this share has remained fairly constant over the last seven years.
The increased migration of young people to other regions is among the main shaping factors for the weak socio-economic performance of the region. It influences the regional unemployment of 11.3%, which is the highest in Bulgaria, almost double than the country average of 6.2% (Eurostat, 2018). After a brief period of decline in unemployment from 14.2% in 2014 to 10.6% in 2016, in 2017 there has been a rise once again.
The employment rate in the North West planning region is the lowest in Bulgaria – 57.9%, compared to the national average of 66.9% (Eurostat, 2018). Of all 268,600 people employed in the region, 28.4% are employed in industry and construction, 26.8% are employed in the services sector, and only 8.1% are employed in agriculture, forestry and fishing (Eurostat, 2018).
With regard to regional gross value added (GVA), 54% of it is contributed by the services sector, followed by industry – 32.7%, and agriculture – 13.2% (NSI, 2018). The main industrial sectors are food and beverage production, textile and clothing, and rubber and plastics production. The region has the largest power plant in the Balkans, the Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant, which has a high concentration of specialised engineering companies for its construction and maintenance. Despite a declining trend over the past decade, these sectors show good potential for creating and absorbing innovations.
The share of SMEs in the region is 99.9%, or 28,866 micro, small and medium-sized enterprises out of the total 28,906 enterprises (NSI, 2018). The SMEs in the region represent 7.1% of all SMEs in the country. The foreign direct investments (FDI) in the region amount to €512.1m according to NSI data from 2018.