31 / 08 / 2023

Infrastructure, marketing, and cooperation is needed when attracting people to the Kvarken region

The Kvarken Council EGTC was one of the co-organizers during Wasa Future Festival 2023. The first event on Thursday brought up discussions regarding, for example the big investments in the Kvarken region, competence supply, and the fixed link connection.

The Kvarken Council EGTC participated in Wasa Future Festival by arranging two events during the festival week on August 7th–12th, 2023. On Thursday August 11th the theme for the event organized by the Kvarken Council was the Kvarken region’s strategic role in a new world order.  

Moderator Sarah Väre opened the event, and the first speaker was Sture Udd, Managing Director of UPC Center. Udd talked about the huge booming economy in Asia and that our export industry needs connections to, for example Vietnam and Bangladesh.  

– The world is changing regarding export. It means that to be successful, we need to create a new concept of export industry in the Kvarken region.

Udd stated that the people in the Kvarken region have the potential to do a lot of things on their own. 

– The Kvarken region has a unique potential and must be leaded by people who can make sense of this potential.  

After Udd was finished with his presentation, both Paula Erkkilä, CEO of Ostrobothnia Chamber of Commerce, and Anders Hjalmarsson, CEO of Västerbotten Chamber of Commerce held a short presentation each. Both Erkkilä and Hjalmarsson talked about the industrial investments in the Northern Nordics. 

– There are big investments going on from the Gävle region up north, and that brings of course a lot of challenges, for example the energy demand, lack of people and workforce, and the building of infrastructure. But we can use our common forces to make things happen, Hjalmarsson said.  

The property market plays an important part in the region’s attractiveness

Next up Lars Westin, Professor in Regional Economics at Umeå University held a presentation on the topic of the green transformation – opportunities and obstacles for growth in the Northern Nordics. 

Westin argued that cities in the Kvarken region need to grow organically to attract investments and skilled labour. Westin stated that right now both Vaasa and Umeå are too small to compete with larger cities.  

– The investments will change the region and the way we currently have seen the development in the region. There will be a need for change. And I’m not sure if the region is ready for that.  

Westin stated that to be able to be competitive, the Vaasa region should have 200 000 inhabitants and the Umeå region should have 300 000 inhabitants. He said that if you don’t have cities that are big enough, you will not get any profits that goes to the property market.

– There’s a difference between an investment and to own the investment. If you don’t own the investment, then the profit of the investment will not stay in your region.  

Future investments in the Kvarken region requires people to move to the region

Next up it was time for the first panel discussion. The subject for the panel discussion was the future investments in the Kvarken region. The panel consisted of Lars Westin, Paula Erkkilä, Anders Hjalmarsson, Triinu Varblane, Senior Advisor at Viexpo, and Anna Måtts-Fransén, Project Manager and Logistics Expert at VASEK.  

The new Finnish Government Programme contains several points that are gratifying for the cross-border cooperation in the Kvarken region. For example, the fixed link connection is mentioned in the Government Programme. 

– I think that the new government sees that infrastructure is not only a cost, but it also enables these big investments, Erkkilä said.

Måtts-Fransén argued that the region already has the base infrastructure in place but that there’s still a lot that needs to be done. 

– What we need to be able to do is to scale up. Scalability when we talk about infrastructure means money, politics, and a lot of time. We need to prepare now in order to have our infrastructure in place when these investments come, Måtts-Fransén said. 

The participants agreed on the matter that the region needs a marketing strategy to attract people to move to the region. Westin argued that this matter is connected to the property market.  

– Yes, the region needs a marketing strategy, but it also needs a product to sell. If you’re successful and people want to move here, you must offer them somewhere to live, Westin said.  

Måtts-Fransén pointed out that that the community is important when moving to a new place.  

– Do we offer community for the people moving here, do they feel welcomed, and do our political situation give a welcoming message? Not for the moment. Hopefully this will change. Both the companies and the municipalities can make the transition smoother when people move to this region, Måtts–Fransén said. 

– Quality of life is something that we have here in our region. We can also offer meaningfulness in our jobs – changing the world is important, especially for many young people, and that’s something that’s possible here, Erkkilä said. 

The fixed link will create a lot of benefits in the region

After the first panel discussion it was time for the second part of the agenda. The expert speaker on the topic of Russia was Niklas Eklund, Professor at the Department of Political Science at Umeå University. Read more about Eklund’s presentation HERE. 

After Eklund’s presentation, Mathias Lindström, the Kvarken Council’s Director, held a presentation on the topic of new opportunities for intensified cross-border development in the Kvarken Region. He pointed out that there has been a lot of public discussions lately on both sides of the strait about the fixed link connection.

– In order to develop the region, we must make a lot of things happen – not only a fixed link or improved infrastructure. The fixed link is one of many things we must do. It’s of course a very important one, that takes a lot of money and effort, but it will create a lot of benefits for all the actors in the region. We must bear that in mind. We must dare to look forward in the future, Lindström pointed out. 

It’s also important to investigate how it affects safety and military questions.  

– We must build infrastructure that serves the development of the region and the industry, but that also has an importance in times of crisis. And I would say that the fixed link between Finland and Sweden fits this perfectly. The right time to do this is right now because this will take many years. 

The last part of the program on Thursday was a second panel discussion. The panel consisted of the members of the Kvarken Council’s working committee for traffic and infrastructure: Joakim Strand, Member of the Finnish Parliament, Hans Lindberg, Municipal Commissioner of Umeå Municipality, Åsa Ågren Wikström, Member of Västerbotten County Council, Anna-Kaisa Pusa, Mayor of the city of Kurikka, and Rickard Carstedt, Chairman of the Regional Development Board in Västerbotten. 

The panel discussion addressed for example the fixed link, the big investments in the region, and the competence supply.  

– As we said on the maiden voyage of the ferry, what is next? Well, it’s obviously the fixed link. But it isn’t about the fixed link per se, it’s about what it can attract. Infrastructure is what lays the foundation to every development in our region. The fixed link is a way of connecting people and bringing us even closer together, Ågren Wikström said.

– You can achieve something if you have a goal, but if you don’t have a goal, you cannot achieve anything, Pusa pointed out.

Download Paula Erkkilä’s presentation HERE
Download Anders Hjalmarsson’s presentation HERE
Download Lars Westin’s presentation HERE
Download Mathias Lindström’s presentation HERE

Watch the streaming HERE
Read the other texts about Wasa Future Festival HERE, HERE and HERE
Read more about the Kvarken Council’s working committee for traffic and infrastructure HERE

Sarah Väre was the moderator during the Kvarken Council’s events.

Paula Erkkilä said that it’s possible to change the world in the Kvarken region.

Anna Måtts-Fransén argued that the region already has the base infrastructure in place but that we should be able to scale up regarding the infrastructure before the investments come.

Lars Westin argued that cities in the Kvarken region need to grow organically to attract investments and skilled labour.