Unique to Belarus. A Tour Around Great Stone Construction

If you drove the part of Brest-Moscow highway leading to Minsk airport, you might have witnessed the birth of a new city. It’s all spacious roads and bustling construction now, but soon the industrial park Great Stone will shape into a full-scale residential venue with citizens, shops and – that’s key – large-scale production.  

First Deputy General Director of the Industrial Park Development Company Kirill Koroteev has walked us through the huge construction site.

great stone industrial park

It started with woods and a swamp

— The construction is both old and new, – the park’s top manager shares. – First works began here on 1 April 2015, but the official launch of construction is 12 May, when the heads of Belarus and China attended the site. Prior to that, there were a lot of preparation, like signing intergovernmental agreements, setting up the park’s development company, attracting finance, designing a layout, project engineering. It took time.

We’re now at the first stage of construction – the building is spanning over the territory of around 850 hectares, or roughly 1200 football fields. The first stage will be completed in 2020. By the end of it, we should have created the infrastructure, including roads and pipelines. Everything is developing very fast.

When construction workers first arrived at the site, they saw woods, a field, and a swamp. Four years later, Koroteev says, they’ve laid 13 km of roads, and 120 km of pipes and lines – water supply, wastewater disposal, sewage, electricity, communications, various engineering infrastructure – for example, for purification of rainwater and sewage.

The present-day capacity is enough for a city with a 50,000 population.

— We will add another 16 km of roads and around 140 km of pipelines and networks to complete the infrastructure for the first cluster by 2020, – the top manager adds. – This needs to be done  before the start of the active construction of apartment blocks, office buildings, production facilities, which has already begun as well.

Non-standard flats with three meter high ceilings

The main focus of Great Stone is production facilities. Resident companies can either use their own projects for the buildings or rent standard buildings to quickly implement a project of whichever complexity.

Kirill suggests talking about it later on as we are approaching the construction site of a residential unit. Works carried out by Chinese workers are in full swing. This construction is financed by a Chinese partner, Kirill explains; the contractor is from China as well.

It seems the workers are so used to excursions, they merely pay any attention to us.

— This house is one of the four buildings that were gifted by the Chinese government. It would be wrong to assume that Belarus gets no profit from this. While the general contractor is from China, the suppliers of construction materials are from Belarus, — the Deputy General Director explains.

The project is non-standard. Apartments will have a three meter high ceilings; the house will consist of 156 apartments. They will be fully furnished for rent to the employees of the resident companies. The rent fees would be affordable – an additional way to draw highly qualified personnel to the park.

With the start of construction in December, the residential unit is almost ready by now. The commissioning is scheduled for August.

The first residential unit mainly consists of one- and two-room flats as the administration does not expect many workers to come with families in the beginning. Later on, a school and two kindergartens will be built in the industrial park.

– The first stage of construction will produce accommodation for 6000 people. Low-rise houses and a townhouse village will neighbor a local village of Bykachino and help the park fit into the existing landscape, – Kirill tells us.

Ecology & safety requirements stricter than in Minsk

During planning, much attention was given to the overall design of the industrial park. Even such details as the color of the facades of the houses were taken into consideration.

— Locals were sсeptic at first, who knows what the Chinese will build here, they said. Their fears were ungrounded – the planning of the park, including the density of the buildings and environmental impact, was done thoroughly.

Most parking lots will be underground. In the first residential building, heat supply will partly come from underground heat pumps – one of the first projects of its kind in Belarus.

— We don’t want the industrial park to be associated with environmental pollution. – Kirill explains. – The general plan presupposes greening on 60% of the territory — all objects are divided by green spaces. In addition, strict requirements are set out for enterprises themselves. For example, a plant that would pass ecology and safety requirements in Minsk, would not pass ours. Any polluting production is forbidden in Great Stone; all enterprises have the most advanced cleaning systems installed.

The Park will have some quite unusual productions like thin-film solar panels that have not previously been manufactured in Belarus. This “solar wallpaper” can be glued to a road, a window and even sewed into clothing to get electricity. The capital-intensive and complex project is under discussion with Chinese investors. In addition, Euro 5 and Euro 6 compliant engines, never made in Belarus before, will also be manufactured in the Park.

great stone industrial park

RuchTech will begin laser equipment production soon. At first, the laser equipment producer will be manufacturing laser machines; later on – laser systems for surgeries.

The city, growing next to Smolevichi 25 km away from Minsk, will have a mall, a polyclinic, restaurants, banks. In the future, a training center or a university will be built here. However, the main focus is, naturally, the resident companies.

— We want to satisfy the investor’s requirements; provide everything an investor needs to create a high-tech production. The infrastructure for workers is part of it, – our guide explains.

No unpleasant surprises for investors

We turn from Minsk Avenue into Sapphire street.

— This is the future office area. It will include shops and a mall, – Kirill continues showing us around. – Pay attention at the green space – we worked thoroughly on that. Plants will be of different colors to match each district. Bejing Avenue is laid out with maples and burgundy shrubs. Minsk Avenue will be colored in yellows and greens.

great stone industrial park

Kirill shows us a freshly planted garden that separates the industrial zone from the office area. There are bicycle lanes along the wide and yet empty streets. It seems that a bicycle will be a convenient way to move around considering the compactness of the park.

– At present, there are 44 resident companies. Ten of them have already launched the production; ten more will do it by the year-end. The total number of legal entities, including banks, insurance, and logistics companies, has already exceeded 80. For now, we mostly collaborate with Chinese companies, but we are actively moving into the European market.

–  There are  27 companies with Chinese capital, nine with Belarusian. The rest is financed by capitals from Austria, Switzerland, USA, Israel — they are excited to work here. We’ve created a guarantee system that includes transnational agreements, so there will be no unpleasant surprises for our foreign partners.

A park separates the industrial zone from the office area

How was the territory for the park chosen? Did the proximity of the airport play a role?

— It was one of the factors, yes, – the top manager confirms. – Also the proximity of qualified workforce. What we’re building is not just another economic zone. We focus on electronics, pharmaceuticals, new materials, biotechnology – these so-called “new industries” require specialists with high qualification. Hence, the proximity of Minsk and its universities played its role as well.

It is impossible to fit every client’s needs

Moving on, we approach a nearly completed typical one-story production building.

— It has everything for the quick start of production – electricity, heating, overhead cranes, other equipment,  – Kirill points out. – It is impossible to fit every client’s needs so we’ve chosen a different approach: we look at the productions we want to develop, study their specifics and go from there. This facility, for example, will house the production of parts for public transport vehicles.

great stone industrial park

A client gets a fully finished facility with ventilation, a fire protection system fitting all requirements, and so on, and then makes a list of personal modifications they need – like to re-position sockets.

Currently, Great Stone park offers two types of production buildings – one- and three-story depending on companies’ needs.

— Four production buildings, including three three-story buildings of 36,000 square meters have already been allocated to the residents. And there’s a queue of companies for the production buildings under construction, — Kirill states.

We move from a one-story facility into a three-story facility that will soon house the production of drones. Both sides of the building have ramps for loading and unloading, elevators, completed systems of electricity and ventilation. “Just install the equipment and you can start working,” our host says with a smile.

Separate buildings will be allocated for white-collar workers, for example, those involved in R&D. Besides, soon there will appear a development center – an office space with the possibility to conduct experiments. It is a mix of an office and a workshop, Kirill Koroteev explains.

A huge expo center for every kind of event

A 23,000 square meters expo center has been constructed at Bejing Avenue.

— Four years ago this was a swamp. We had to drain it. In addition, we had to reconstruct the Usha river, which cost around 11 million Belarusian rubles.

The idea of a large-scale exhibition center is for the residents to be able to demonstrate their new products.

— This is super convenient, – Kirill explains. – An investor arrives in the Park, has meetings, lives at a hotel (aka business center China Merchants rated 8.5 at Booking.com – author’s note), signs agreements, and even orders the delivery of the purchased goods to anywhere in the world – using our logistics hub. What’s more, a customs clearance point is located in the Park, so the residents can launch the production in no time. Basically, all in one place.

China Merchants business center (left) and exhibition center

Kirill adds that the Park’s expo center will welcome the Belt and Road Forum for Regional Cooperation and Development on 1-3 July 2019. This large-scale and important event is intended to demonstrate the potential of the industrial park and draw “big-money investors”.

A similar global forum is being held in Beijing now, while Belarus will host a regional one in July.

Inside the expo center

The venue can house expos, forums, or other events.

— Anything you wish. For instance, the second floor has rooms for plenary meetings and negotiations. We wanted to host the BelAgro expo here – there are enough closed and open spaces, — Kirill shared.

The ground floor will be used by Park’s residents and their partners. For example, a famous jewelry company has its stand there. In addition, the expo center will include a startups incubator.

— We are creating a fund to support the small and medium business. An entrepreneur does not only get a building but also help to solve all their tasks, including financial ones, —  Kirill tells us.

“We’re ready to start construction at larger territory”

The administration expects to settle Great Stone with residents by 2020. Then, the second stage of construction, a more large-scale one, will begin.

Just to put numbers in perspective – the first stage covered 850 hectares, the second one will span over 3000 hectares. New housing, R&D centers, a railway and logistics hubs and, of course, production facilities will appear here.

— Many Chinese and European experts take part in the planning of the second stage. A company from the Netherlands won a large city-design competition; its project has interesting details like residential buildings with channels between them, and more green space compared with a typical Belarusian city planning.

Will all this scale be in demand, we ask.

— Okay, here’s what we have now: of 850 hectares in the first stage, 500 hectares are allocated for production and housing (the rest are infrastructure, roads and green spaces). Of these 500, 150 have either been sold or rented. Talks regarding 200 more hectares are underway. What’s left are 40 hectares and they are free for now, — the top manager gives the numbers.

— Basically, we need more space in the first stage of construction before 2020. Therefore, we should be ready to start construction in the territory of the second stage earlier to meet the demand. We should always think ahead.

A system that’s unique to Belarus 

The industrial park Great Stone is basically a city. With its own police and more.

— There used to be hooliganism and robberies until we brought the order. The territory is carefully monitored now: regular detours at night, strict control. Clients know that nothing bad will happen, — Kirill told us.

In addition, a fire station and a medical assistant’s point are operating in the Park. A full-fledged clinic will be built later. There is a pharmacy, food store, hairdresser, post office, and offices of banks.

Inside the hotel

— We (the Industrial Park Development Company – author’s note) do all the maintenance in the Park. We do not delegate it to other contractors and services, we supervise the maintenance ourselves. Any issues a resident may face will be resolved here – people won’t need to visit government offices and agencies in Minsk, – Kirill explains. – We plan to open a call-center to work with the residents’ appeals in the future.

“Smart” control systems and elements of “smart city” are used in the Park.

— Let’s say the water supply and sewage systems. The pipes have sensors inside, so if there is a leak, we immediately get information about it. A specialist uses a tablet to check where the problem is and what part is needed for repair (and simultaneously orders it from the warehouse), — Kirill explains the details. — It works the same way with heating. We track the consumption and peaks online, automatically read the meters and send invoices to residents and immediately record them in 1C software.

All the data, systems’ controls and signals are gathered in a single operator desk. The system is unique to Belarus, says Kirill.

The tour of Great Stone comes to an end. We are driving past the MAZ-WEICHAI plant, built in eight months and producing modern engines for trucks, and the facility of the American company IPG Photonics, the world leader in the high-power fiber laser industry who has recently bought seven hectares of land in the industrial park for its second workshop.

Strong wind creates occasional small sandstorms, but the work goes on non-stop every day. Let’s wait and see what this new city will be like in a few years.