The Blagoevgrad region has an area of 6,449.5 km² - the third largest city in Bulgaria, as of 2021, with a population of 298,251 people. The district is located in Pirin, Rila, Rhodope, Vlahina, Maleshevska, Ograzhden, Belasitsa, Slavyanka and Sturgach mountains, and is situated among two of the country’s three national parks and 40% of Bulgaria's mineral springs. The region is also the second largest forest area.
The mountains and numerous forests, the lack of industrial pollutants, as well as the warm mineral springs and the rich cultural and historical heritage make this area one of the most suitable for the development of various types of tourism.
The regional centre - the town of Blagoevgrad lies within 102 km from Sofia. It is located at an altitude of 360 m above sea level and by the end of 2021 it will be the 15th most populated city in Bulgaria with 74 066 inhabitants.
Transport and Infrastructure
The district's location on the periphery of the country and the relatively large mountainous areas explain the low density of the road and rail network, as well as the relatively small share of highways and first-class roads in the total road network. However, Blagoevgrad is among the districts with the best road quality. The Pan-European Trans-European Corridor 4, the European road E79 and the national road I-1 pass through the district. The Struma highway is currently being constructed.
Economy and labour market
The economy of Blagoevgrad is relatively diverse and well-balanced, with no dominant industrial sectors. The manufacturing sector is the largest contributor to the output and number of jobs, followed by the trade and transport sectors.
Due to a large number of students, the key geographical location, the nature and numerous social factors, Blagoevgrad has a relatively well-developed economy. GDP per capita in the district continues to grow, reaching BGN 10 381, although it remains significantly lower than the national average (BGN 17 299). Wage and income levels (SRZ BGN 10 881) are below the national average (BGN 16 687).
Following three years of steady growth, the economic activity in the district declined in 2021, although it remained above the national average with 75.3% compared to 72% nationally. The education level of the workforce and the ageing population remain challenges for the local labour market. The share of graduates among the population 25-64 is 21.1% (vs. 29.2% nationally), and those with primary education or below is 17.9% (vs. 16.9% nationally).
The number of non-financial enterprises relative to the population in the district continues to grow and remains the third highest in the country (after the capital and the Burgas district) with 72 enterprises per 1,000 population (vs. 61 per 1,000 in the country). At the same time, the volume of expenditures for the acquisition of fixed tangible assets remains at a relatively low level (BGN 1.8 thousand per person vs. BGN 3.2 thousand in the country), similar to the trend in the volume of output (BGN 18.7 thousand per person vs. BGN 28.0 thousand in the country). Foreign investment has been more dynamic and has grown faster than the national average. There is also a serious increase in the absorption of EU funds. As of 15 June 2021, the value of disbursements to beneficiaries of operational programmes in Blagoevgrad reached BGN 3.4 thousand per capita and was the third highest in the country (after the capital and Gabrovo District).
The level of local taxes is low. Within the district, the Blagoevgrad Municipality has the highest local taxes. Satovcha Municipality keeps one of the lowest taxes not only in the district but also in the country.
Population and social conditions
Blagoevgrad is one of the districts with relatively good results when it comes to demographics, although the general trends of a rapidly ageing population are visible here too. In 2021, the natural growth rate declined sharply, although it remained higher than the national average (-10.6‰ vs. -13.2‰ nationally). The district continues to attract people and the mechanical growth rate is 2.5%. A relatively small proportion of the population lives in cities (60.3% vs. 72.9% nationally), but the density in urban areas is high (2,264 people/sq km vs. 1,506 people/sq km nationally).
Education. Blagoevgrad is among the districts with the highest enrolment rate in grades V-VIII - 92.4% (compared to 86.5% in the country). The success rate of students in the district is also close to the national average. The average score in the national external mathematics assessment after grade VII in the district rose to 37.1 points (compared to 37.9 points in the country). The average grade in the matriculation exams in Literature decreases slightly to "Good" 4.19 (vs. "Good" 4.21 in the country). The number of students in the district has decreased to 29 per 1,000 population (vs. 32 per 1,000 nationally). Blagoevgrad is home to the South-Western University "Neofit Rilski" and the American University in Bulgaria, as well as three other universities - the College of Tourism, the College of Economics and Management and the Medical College.
Health care in the district suffers from a shortage of doctors (both general practitioners and specialists) and hospital beds. The number of beds in multi-speciality hospitals has been steadily increasing, but remains relatively low at 4.13 per 1,000 people compared to 5.52 per 1,000 people in the country.
Ecology. Blagoevgrad is among the districts with the lowest share of waste submitted for treatment and recycling - 15% (vs. 71% in the country). A relatively large part of the population lives in settlements with public sewerage (82.9% vs. 76.4% in the country), but a relatively small part of it is connected to wastewater treatment plants (32.8% vs. 64.6% in the country). Blagoevgrad remains among the districts with the lowest volume of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere.
Safety. The crime rate in the district is low with a relatively high uncover rate. The registered crime rate against persons and property is 7.3 per 1,000 (compared to 9.9 per 1,000 in the country). Detected crimes have increased and have reached 58.2% (52.1% in the country). Criminal judges' caseloads lay at 6.9 cases per judge per month (vs. 8.6 cases per judge nationally). However, the speed of the justice administration is insufficient - the share of pending cases is increasing and stands at 15% (vs. 11% in the country).