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Polish Small Business Owners Assess Future in EU - 2004-05-02

Now that Poland is part of the European Union, small businesses are worried they could be crowded out by large international chains. But globalization also presents some opportunities as big companies look for local partners.

Anna Lagodzinska, an economist by training, returned to Poland in 1997 with her husband after living in Britain and Luxembourg for a number of years.

The 45-year-old Ms. Lagodzinska learned that the French cosmetics company, Clarens, wanted to open one of its famed beauty institutes in Poland. Her knowledge of Western business practices and her native Polish roots helped land her a Clarens partnership.

There are only 14 such institutes worldwide, and the Polish facility becomes number 15 when it opens in mid-May. Ms. Lagodzinska had no problem finding beauticians to go through extensive training in Clarins beauty methods. With unemployment running around 18 to 20 percent in Poland, there is a deep pool of talent looking for work.

"Well this is the possibility to find nice, good, well-educated persons," she said. "And not expensive, because there's a very big competition on the market."

Ms. Lagodzinska says big political changes like joining the EU are not enough for ordinary Polish people. They expect tangible results in their daily lives.

As the EU brings Poland and other former Communist states into the bloc, it is creating conditions that give businesses the confidence to invest in such emerging markets. The effects of almost five decades of communism are not easily corrected, but Ms. Lagodzinska says the struggle is worth it.

"Although if one sees the life today, it's not the easiest one," she said. "But as I am saying we are entering a completely new situation, completely new history. For both sides, West and East." The French company Clarens describes treatments at their beauty institutes as "A sensory experience - top to toe well being." Anna Lagodzinska hopes the political and economic changes under way in Poland will also go top to toe, although she knows that will take a lot more than one day at the spa.