The official cooperation between Finland and Sweden across Kvarken turns 50 years, and the Kvarken Council EGTC celebrated it on June 18th with a Kvarkenfest festival at Elisa Stadion in Vaasa. Before the festival, a group of about 100 invited guests from the cultural and business community, as well as from the public sector, got to take part in dialogue, culture, and interesting speeches at the KvarkenTalks event at Villa Sandviken.
The theme of the region’s cultural and business forum was to build the future. Kvarken is facing a new era with a new boat operating there, and major industrial investments are happening or planned in both countries. Together, these create the conditions for increased grassroot and cultural cooperation.
“If you want growth, you also need people”
The moderator Hippi Hovi from the Coastal Ostrobothnian Entrepreneurs steered the discussion to the first theme of the which was the region’s attractiveness, and what we can achieve together from a Nordic perspective. Siv Forssén, from Västerbotten Chamber of Commerce, and Mikael Hallbäck, from Ostrobothnia Chamber of Commerce, presented the ongoing and future major investments in the regions, and both emphasised that one of the biggest challenges is to obtain a skilled workforce.
– Municipalities and regions must invest in residents’ services and infrastructure, such as schools. Västerbotten is a strong industrial region with the highest growth in Sweden, and the region that has come the furthest with the recovery. The labour shortages are significant because even if everyone had the right education, the population in the area is still not enough to meet the needs of all companies. There will still be major changes in Sweden’s internal migration changes, Forssén said.
Hallbäck continued the same themes:
– In Ostrobothnia, we have the lowest unemployment in mainland Finland, so the situation is the same as in the Västerbotten region. The domestic language groups will shrink, and by year 2040, 20 percent of the population will come from other places. If you want growth, you also need people. We must be able to attract and retain international labour. We need a common vision of how we can be a model area for international labour, he stated.
“We must be the best in the world at what we do”
The second theme for the dialogues was export, business opportunities, and infrastructure. Rickard Carstedt from Region Västerbotten started by encouraging you to think bigger:
– We may not be able to save the world from climate change, but we can show the world that change is possible. We are skilled at digitalization, so we need to develop more of what we are good at. We are only at the beginning of the journey, but we need to show the rest of the world every way it is possible for us to be sustainable and act sustainably.
Kristian Schrey, the CEO of Viexpo, emphasized that the Kvarken region must be the best in the world at what they do.
– Finland lives on export, that is why we must strive to be the best at it. During the pandemic, companies have found digital solutions by leaps and bounds. However, the lack of resources and labour shortages have persisted for a long time and have gradually worsened. We need all kinds of know-how in the companies, but especially top expertise and people who already have their networks in place, he stated.
Education to a fresh product?
Heidi Hansson, vice-principal at Umeå University, was particularly concerned of students who are attracted to working life before graduation:
– You must think long-term with studies and competence and give students time to complete their studies. Education will be a fresh product and therefore we will need more continuous learning and critical review of the region in the future. We may soon be in such a situation where we have the oldest battery factory in the world in our region. How do we act then and what do we aim for?
Janne Wikström from the Culture Fund for Sweden and Finland highlighted the integration of foreign students:
– We have a lot to do to make it easier to stay in the country after the studies has ended.
Cooperation is built through dialogue
All speakers also participated in a panel discussion with Joakim Strand, the Kvarken Councils chairman of the board, which summarized the discussions that took place and painted a future picture of what can be achieved now and in the future through cooperation in the Kvarken region.
The panellists hoped that the EU would become acquainted with the region and its geography.
– The decisionmakers must also discuss with companies and go through what is needed in the companies. We ourselves must become more convinced that we have all the prerequisites to be the most viable region in the world, Schrey pointed out.
– The EU needs us more than we need them because we have the know-how that the world needs in the greens transition, Strand stated.
The panellists also became visionaries when they began to think about how the Kvarken region will look like in 25 years, when it’s time to celebrate the 75th anniversary of cooperation in the Kvarken region.
– At that time, we will have a hotel in the middle of Kvarken and there is a road there from both directions, Hallbäck thought.
Through cross-border cooperation, the Kvarken region has greater changes of meeting common challenges and seizing common opportunities. After lively discussions, the panellists and the entire audience agreed: The most valuable thing is to meet and build cooperation through discussions. And that did KvarkenTalks succeed with.
Besides the Kvarken Council, the KvarkenTalks partners consisted of Hanaholmen, Culture Fund for Sweden and Finland, Coastal Ostrobothnian Entrepreneurs, Vaasa Region Development Company VASEK, Viexpo, Västerbotten Chamber of Commerce, and Ostrobothnia Chamber of Commerce.
Original text: Johanna Hietikko-Koljonen, Vaasa Region Development Company VASEK