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Kainuu – with challenges and strengths similar to the Northern Europe

In his blog post Carl challenged me to tell how Kainuu will “navigate” the future challenges of global markets and development and asked, how important is North to our competiveness. I really do think the North is important to our competitiveness, and let me explain why.

To keep it simple, I should first state that our challenges in Kainuu are mostly the same as in Europe and especially in Northern regions in general; and the opportunities or competitive advantages are similar to those of other Northern areas. Of course the best advantages will be the ones that are unique, specific to Kainuu. But in this rapidly changing world it has come more difficult even to know or identify these challenges, opportunities or strength that will be crucial in the future.

Looking at Kainuu from the perspective of global markets I would like to position it to Northern Sparsely Populated Areas (NSPA) or the Barents area. The regions of Northern Finland, Norway and Sweden have many characteristics in common, such as sparse population, harsh climate and long distances. The region has a population density of only 4.9 inhabitants per km2, something that cannot be found in any other part of the European Union. Additionally, the geopolitical situation, especially in relation to Russia, has a significant impact on our development perspectives in Europe. As Finland has long EU border to Russia, also the Barents Euro-Arctic area has a specific role to play in this regard.

Kainuu region currently is the chair region of Barents Regional Co-Operation and has already had the chance to continue cross-border co-operation regardless current international political tensions.. We look forward to deepen people-to-people-people as well as economic co-operation which include vast potential.

Finland joined the European Union in 1995. Since that the European single markets, European development and political challenges have played an increasingly important role in our strategies. In the EU context Kainuu has a position in the so called Northern Sparsely Populated Areas, as well as the Northern Dimension, and it is a part of Eastern and Northern Finland. During the Finnish EU membership Kainuu has gained a place in the Europe of Regions and taken long steps towards internationalization.

It is quite obvious that the Northern areas are affected by globalisation, energy-supply, climate change and demographic change. In many regards, Kainuu like the whole NSPA is at the forefront of main European challenges.

  • Our national economies, where exports of primary goods have played a major role, have been particularly exposed to global fluctuations in market prices. There are long traditions of adapting to changing economic contexts, and of creating institutional infrastructure minimising the social impact of these necessary adjustments;
  • As an Arctic and Sub-Arctic region, we are particularly exposed to rapid climate changes;
  • In terms of energy, the Northern areas have a major potential in terms of energy production, both renewable (hydropower, bio-energy, wind) and fossil;
  • Kainuu, as well as the other Northern areas, has been experiencing population decline in a number of peripheral communities for a number of decades. It therefore has particular experience dealing with the challenges this entails especially in terms of public service provision.

 

I support the ideas of the NSPA joint report on the future of the Northern regions that was published in 2009. The NSPA vision for the future is to profile our region as ”strong, specific and promising”. According to a joint road map the development work of regions should focus around four themes:

1.Fully exploiting NSPA natural recourses;

2.Managing demographic trends;

3.The economic focus of the NSPA: Knowledge economy and manufacturing industries; and

4.Infrastructure strategies for the NSPA: Intra-regional coherence and global connections.

I see these priorities important as speaking about the role of the NSPA in the European Union. The NSPA Vision ensures that these regions are part of the solution rather than the problem when confronted with the major foreseen European and global challenges.

I believe in success of Northern areas in future as far as it concern of opportunities based on nature, both natural resources and natural beauty and attractiveness. Even if some development trends at the moment don’t support this view, the basic issues are in place. To realize the potential of natural resources fundamental factor is the availability and willingness to invest in industry and infrastructure in Northern regions.

We have to keep in mind how small our population is in Kainuu, and how very thin the population density is since our land area is quite large compared to the population. This also implies to very limited sources of capital in the region. In other words, the endogenous development opportunities are limited. So, all the bigger industrial projects need to collect most of the funding from outside the area, even from the international markets. As a strategic conclusion, Kainuu needs both internal and external inputs for development; and also we have to balance our economic base to reach more resilient and sustainable economic structure.

According to the Kainuu Regional Program 2014–2017, the strengths standing out in the regional profile of Kainuu are nature, space and natural resources as well as the infrastructure and a sustainable community structure. The location of Kainuu in the middle of Finland makes both Southern and Northern Finland easily accessible, and Helsinki is only about an hour´s flight away. The region has good services, good cooperation networks and an attractive environment for living, for carrying out business activities or working, as well as for travelling. The business developing of Kainuu is focusing on forest based bio economy, technology industry, tourism and eco-efficient mining.

The main targets for external inputs, especially Foreign Direct Investments in Kainuu are included in the smart specialization priorities of Kainuu. Top priorities of a smart specialization in Kainuu are:

1) ICT and information systems including measuring technology, gaming and simulation technology, data centers and data center ecosystems;

2) Natural resources where focus is on bio-economy (biorefinery, wood construction) and sustainable green mining, and

3) Health and wellbeing where focus is on activity tourism and innovations of nutrition, health and sport.

I am looking forward to strengthen and deepen our strategic actions to develop Kainuu more international and to grow its trade in European market, exports out of Europe including Russia and strongly develop the international tourism in Kainuu. At the moment, a new development strategy for tourism in Kainuu is in process.

I would like to hear how director Tuomo Tahvanainen does see our next steps towards international tourism and global markets. You have been working for Kainuu tourism sector with a passion for years now, and sure have many good stories and examples to share with us. You have also started as a member in the Joint Barents working group for tourism (JWGT) recently. Do you also see the Northern areas having genuinely joint interests, strengths or image (“Northern style of living”) to build up broader cooperation in marketing?

Pentti Malinen

Region Mayor

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