Adient says its early entry into Slovenia helped it establish a bulwark against the threat of fierce competition for labour in low-cost emerging markets.

The ability to keep staff is proving a key battleground in Eastern Europe as a workforce arms race sees regional powers in an intense struggle to retain employees against a backdrop of Continent-wide free movement and wage competition.

"In 2003, we analysed seven countries in this region, [such as] Bulgaria, Poland, Czech Republic et cetera [with a] focus on best cost and growth," said Adient executive director engineering, Frank Toenniges at this week's Central and Eastern European Automotive Forum in Prague.

"Of course we want to grow with the OEMs in this region – we want to move development costs into countries where wages are low. The decision-making matrix include [d] things like the economic situation, average wages across these countries and the situation of the suppliers.

"At the end of the day we had two winners – Slovakia and the Czech Republic – we decided on Slovakia. In 2003 there was just one R&D centre in Slovakia and so we had a bigger chance to find the right skilled resources.

"We started Trencín [tech centre] as an extended workbench… today we are [a] fully mature and fully capable Technical Centre."

As part of its fight to retain that skilled workforce – an overriding theme which constantly surfaced at the Prague conference this week – Adient added it was starting an apprenticeship scheme similar to that carried out in Germany while it was also expanding its portfolio into aircraft seating.

Adient is the seating spin-off from Johnson Controls and has a 36% – 40% global market share and US$17bn turnover.

In Trencín Johnson Controls runs one of the biggest technology centres in Slovakia for developing automotive components, systems and modules. The 127,000 square feet technology centre extends the engineering network to include the Eastern European growth markets.

The centre has 500 employees designing automotive components, systems and modules and houses prototype facilities as well as product testing capabilities.

Trencin is at the heart of the administrative, economical and cultural centre of the middle Vah River Valley in Slovakia.