16 January 2023

Continuous, constant, collaborative

These are the guiding principles of the 10-year spatial development agenda for the Western Hungarian, mid-sized city of Szombathely. Despite facing many challenges, including having a one-legged economy and limited influence due to centralised decision making,  with support from the Intelligent Cities Challenge (ICC) the city's team of experts  have created a €100 million consensus-based programme - Szombathely2030 which is now being successfully implemented.

Szombathely’s goals, in line with the city’s ICC vision statement, are to promote the transformation of local industry, initiate more effective and transparent interaction with residents and develop smart city & smart traffic initiatives. Szombathely2030 is a great example of how digitalisation, collaboration, international learning and a multi-fund approach can be used to transform a city. The city provided its reflections on its transformation which has been facilitated by ICC.


The path to Szombathely2030

In 2019 the newly elected municipality management committed itself to facilitate a long-term, 10-year programme, in the interests of the local community. It aimed to ignite the digital and green twin transition. Around the same time, Szombathely joined the ICC initiative as the formal framework of cooperation.

The first phase of planning saw collaboration between the local action team, 3 universities, the municipality of Szombathely, the Pannon Business Network, the chamber of industry and commerce, and representatives from large companies. After 8 months and support from external experts, together they created a 50-page document which stated the vision, mission, strategy, action plan and outlined flagship projects. A large community consultation followed, with 1000 of Szombathely’s 80,000 inhabitants contributing through a feedback questionnaire, alongside a series of workshops and interviews. This phase was concluded with a general assembly of the city, that unanimously approved the Szombathely2030 programme.

The document was approved also by the county General Assembly which meant that it was integrated into the regional plan. It is also an explicitly articulated component of the North-Western Hungarian Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) plan.


Industrial digitalisation at the heart of the programme

The key focus of the programme is strengthening and supporting industrial digitalisation, primarily focusing on automation, robotisation and artificial intelligence, through national and international start-ups, SMEs and large companies. Through this, the transformation and industrial restructuring of the automotive industry (which dominates the economy of the city and the region) can be supported efficiently, whilst the establishment of the healthcare industry can also be proactively stimulated. The development of the healthcare industry is crucial to Szombathely in order to make its’ economy and industry more stable and knowledgeable. There are high ambitions for this industry, with the ultimate goal of creating a distinctly unique environment for innovative rehabilitation developments.


Gaining valuable international insights

In order to maximise the relevance and impact of the programme, Szombathely participated in the Interreg Peer Review programme, where 5 European regions’ professional experts worked together with the local team to finetune the action plan. As a result, the orientation was more focused, the focal point of the action plan was defined, and highly innovative programme elements were developed.

Thanks to the Interreg programme, multiple learning activities were implemented on the international level. It varied from policy instrument development and policy exchange learning study trips with policy stakeholders to smart specialisation (S3) platform inputs to the relevant governing bodies. For example - learning about hydrogen applications in Scotland and the Netherlands, studying health industrial development in Finland, or complex ecosystem management good practices in Austria.


Results so far – over 2 million mobilised

Already the city has seen strong results with its Szombathely 2030 programme in several areas as outlined below.

Manufacturing digitalisation aims at bringing the latest production technologies to Szombathely. To ensure this, a Teaching and Learning Factory (TLF) was successfully set up, enabling 1000 visitors to discover the latest digital applications and 2 EIT Manufacturing innovation projects and 2 Horizon Europe projects to be approved.

The start-up scene has been supported by the programme. As part of the Szombathely2030 Conference in October 2022, the first start-up competition was organised in the field of health and care industries. This saw over 150 participants and 8 finalists present their cutting-edge technological support.

A senior care ecosystem has also been developed. Through both international and local level collaboration, a smart senior room was designed to facilitate senior home care, education, training, and research. The initiative used over 50 digital assisting applications, from robotics through sensors to monitoring technologies and was granted a 3* label as a European AHA Health Reference Site.

The green economy is being fostered by Szombathely’s hydrogen strategy. Around €40 million has been invested in a large partnership consortium, including all local relevant stakeholders, to implement a holistic green hydrogen programme.

Shifting towards wearable robotics is catalysed by a proposal prepared under the Important Project of Common European Interest (IPCEI) on Health. The Szombathely initiative was shortlisted from over 120 applications to 20 finalists.

The Szombathely2030 team takes pride in its achievements so far and appreciates the support offered by the ICC. Looking forward the city hopes to continue with its progress and wishes to further showcase its transformation and look for opportunities to further develop.