The Republic of Mari El is located in the middle part of the Volga Valley. It is part of the Russia's Volga-Vyatka Economic region. Mari El occupies a territory of 23,200 sq. km., which is 0.13 percent of the total area of the Russian Federation. It has a population of 766,200, 62.2 percent of which are urban residents. The Republic of Mari El has 13 administrative areas (rayons). Its administrative centre is Ioshkar-Ola whose population totals 280,000 residents. It is located approximately 400 miles south-east of Moscow. In the Soviet era, Mari El was closed to foreign travelers and businessmen due to the high share of the military industrial complex in the local economic structure. It was opened only in the early 90's. Along with Ioshkar-Ola, other large cities include Volzhsk and Kozmodemiansk. The largest ethnicities are Russians (47.5 percent of all inhabitants), Mariys (43.3 percent), and Tatars (5.9 percent). The most widespread and popular religions are Orthodox Christianity and Islam. The native Mariys belongs to the Ugro-Finnish language group.
The Republic of Mari El is a sovereign state under jurisdiction of the Russian Federation. Its Head of State and Government is the President of Mariy El who has a 4-year tenure. He or she nominates Ministers who are approved by the State Assembly. The Republic's State Assembly represents the legislative branch of power.
The most valuable local natural asset is forests and woods. They cover 52.7 percent of the whole territory. Lumber reserves amount to 161.6 million cubic m. Annual average output of lumber is around 500,000 cubic m. Substantial deposits of sand for construction and glass industries, clay for building, peat, spring water, gypsum and anhydrides are present in the Republic.
Industry accounts for 42.2 percent of the republic's gross domestic product. Key industry sectors are power generation, machine-building/metal-working, food industry, radioelectronics, lumber production/ wood-working, and pharmaceutical industry.
Local suppliers of refrigerating equipment for the food industry, such as Marikholodmash, Volzhskprodmash, Sovitalprodmash, manufacture approximately 70 percent of its total output throughout Russia.
The Ioshkar-Ola Forestry Machine-Building Plant is the only Russian company which produce packaging machinery for the lumber industry sector. The Mariy Pulp and Paper Mill is one of the largest Russian suppliers of technical grades of paper.
The Republic's agribusiness accounts for 19.1 percent of the gross domestic product. Agricultural land totals 735,000 hectares and constitutes 31 percent of Mariy El's territory. The lead agricultural sector is livestock breeding. It basically includes raising cattle, pigs, sheep, poultry, and horses. In addition, Mariy El specializes in producing grains. In 1998, around 119,000 MT of wheat and 74,000 MT of rye were harvested in the Republic.
Companies which make investments in the Mari economy are eligible for governmental guarantees and tax benefits under the law of the Republic of Mari El dated 05/13/97 'On Attraction of Investments in the Economy of the Republic of Mari El'. Particularly, companies being registered in the territory of Mari El are entitled to full or partial 5 year exemptions from corporate profit, property taxes, a tax on vehicles, and VAT payable to the Republic's budget provided they invest not less than USD100,000 or its ruble equivalent in local projects. Companies will be 100 percent free of the above taxes for the first two years of operations, 75 percent free for the third year, 50 percent free for the fourth year, and 25 percent free for the fifth year.
Four hotels are available for travelers in Ioshkar-Ola. None of them are certified to international standards or administered by Western companies. One possibility is to stay at the Ioshkar-Ola hotel. It is located in the central part of the city nearby several administrative buildings of the Republic and city authorities, including that of the Mariy Government. Out-going domestic inter-city and international calls may be made only through an operator. There is a taxi-cab lot round the corner of the hotel. It typically takes 10-15 minutes to ride from the hotel to the train station by cab and 25-30 minutes to the airport.