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From Brighton to Kainuu – a love affair

Thanks Eeva, yes you are very right, our region has been going through some exciting but equally challenging times as we transition from a heavy paper industry dominated region to a broader spread of industry and business.

I was lucky enough to find a wonderful Finnish wife, who introduced me to the Region of Kainuu back in 1985. In those days, visiting Kajaani, (the regional HQ) as an ex- British submariner, felt almost like I had jumped into a John Le Carre spy novel and would need to move around incognito, sadly impossible as I stood out like a sore thumb as an obvious foreigner !  (Clad in my Oxford brogues, dark blue city suit and bowler hat)

How times have changed! Although, not without challenges, today’s Kainuu business community is fully engaged in the changing landscape of global business. What does that mean though? Practically it can be seen in the breadth of language skills (My own terrible Finnish language skills have not prevented me from both living and working here) and competencies in cutting edge technologies. The region is now rapidly becoming a Hub for Data Centres, a ground-breaking Bio Fuel refinery eco-system and a strong tourism business, centred around the resort of Vuokatti.

In those old days, the connections to the ‘outside world’ relied so heavily upon traditional trade routes such as road, rail and aviation. Nowadays the fibres running under the ground, the communications networks, have connected a plethora of new business opportunities for both the smart and industrious Finns and those global customers and partners who previously were unable to enjoy the rather dry humour (Mika Hakkinen style) without actually visiting the region.

So what is draw?

Well from a business point of view, the first thing that I noticed was that once I had ‘laid down my hat’ here (2008) I noticed that I felt that I was getting value for money from my taxes.  Having been a business owner for many years, that was something quite critical. Years of feeling like a tax collector first, and only then an entrepreneur (as most entrepreneurs feel the pressure to ensure taxes have been paid on time and only then can they concentrate on the idea of making money!). How many wasted hours and how much money do businesses squander on moving around from place to place.  Sometimes, in the south-east of UK it could take a whole day to have a one-hour meeting, some 20 miles away from your own office. Traffic, bad roads, poor public transport, delays, accidents, queues and all the stress on the way, just when the mobile hands-free loses signal, was frustration but also squandered money.

In Kainuu, going for a meeting is a simple speed/time/distance calculation. You know when you leave and what speed you will drive and therefore at what time you will arrive. Business life can be very easily  simplified,  to effective and efficient actions.  This a great advantage to business quality of life.

My kids have had a fantastic education (without huge school fees!) and my work life has certainly seen considerable reduction in personal stress. My personal health has been superbly enhanced by the reduction of stress but also by the fantastic healthcare system here. (My Finnish colleagues really don’t know how lucky they are sometimes!).

Of course this doesn’t tell the whole story though. In any region where the population (customer base) is limited there are significant challenges in business life, but it is very clear that the governance of the region has seriously opened up its horizons in the last 10 years.  Strategies are being played out that have massively increased the connectivity to global markets and business leaders are confronting modern day industrial changes. Kainuu region has a plan and I feel inspired to see incredible advances in technology all around me here in the so-called forest. I hope in future to replay/reflect on some of the more tacit issues facing business in Kainuu.

One of the leaders in this changing regional outlook and strategy is Pentti Malinen, the Regional Mayor, and his love of orienteering equips him well to navigate towards the global markets and ensure the safe passage to prosperity for our inhabitants. What kind of compass do we need to navigate these future challenges? And how important is North to our competitiveness?

Carl Wideman

Director, FDI & IT Services Sector, Kainuun Etu Oy


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