Kosovo plans to offer free land with no property taxes to qualifying U.S. businesses interested in opening shop in the European nation and launched the pitch this week in Iowa.

Kosovo is particularly interested in businesses in agricultural industries, meat processing, mining, labor-intensive work, machinery, automotive, wind energy, biofuels and solar energy, said Erolld Belegu, adviser to Kosovo’s prime minister.

A relatively inexpensive workforce and a favorable tax structure should help lure U.S.-based business operations, Belegu said. Kosovo workers typically make less than half the U.S. minimum wage.

In addition to setting aside 1,200 acres for what is called the Kosovo American Economic City near Gjakova, Kosovo, a port in Albania has been designated for U.S. goods and will offer smaller fees, Belegu said. Kosovo officials plan to advertise the opportunity across the United States, but wanted to start in Iowa, which has developed strong ties to the nation.

The land largely will be offered first come, first served. Some of it may be leased, perhaps by a U.S. company hired to help, but also would be offered free to the right development, Belegu said. 

The idea is to help the economies of the U.S. and Kosovo. “Our intent is not to take jobs from the U.S.” Belegu said. “We want to get jobs that target European markets while offering a better tax climate to U.S. companies.”

The European nation relies on imports for many of its goods, including 95 percent of its meat, “something that Iowa is very good at,” Belegu said. 

Kosovo opened Iowa’s first foreign consulate in Des Moines in 2016 and has established Sister Cities partnerships in Iowa. Des Moines-based Kosovo Consul General Xhavit Gashi said the development project was a logical next step after years of work with the Greater Des Moines Partnership, Simpson, Norwalk, the Iowa National Guard and others in Iowa. Gashi said Norwalk was chosen as a partner because of its recent commercial growth. 

Norwalk, which is a Sister City to Vushtrri, sent a delegation to Kosovo a couple of years ago. 

Belegu said Kosovo is working with Simpson College and the city of Norwalk on a feasibility plan to build out the U.S.-related development in Kosovo, looking for the best mix of incentives. 

After a few years of developing relationships with Iowa business interests through the consulate, there now is talk of firm developments, said Gashi, who ends his time as consul general this week. His replacement will be announced in a few weeks. 

There have already been some talks with Vermeer over the years. And Ideal Energy, an Iowa solar company, will supply panels to StoneCastle Vineyards and Winery, which is looking to sell its wine at Court Avenue Restaurant and Brewing Co. and the Des Moines Embassy Club. Belegu said Kosovo’s brandy also is likely to show up in Iowa. 

Kosovo officials also are interested in talking to Hy-Line about poultry products.

Belegu said Kosovo is among Europe’s poorest countries and is building a new economy after war ravaged the area in the 1990s and amid continued tensions with Serbia. The average Kosovar is 26 years old, which among other things has buoyed interest in information technology. 

The tiny nation of 1.8 million is looking for economic development, with the help of its long-standing relationship with Iowa. The Iowa National Guard has been involved in security partnerships there since 2011.

It’s a natural step for the consulate, located on Court Avenue. “I believe in the vision,” Gashi said. “We agreed that our focus would be on economic development, education and agriculture. I am glad we now are moving to specifics.”

Added Belegu: “Up to now it’s been nice talk, nice words.”

Now, Kosovo is offering more.

For more information, email Hollie Zajicek, Norwalk economic development director.