Norway is our wealthy neighbour, even though its economy is currently being pressed by the decreasing oil and gas prices. More than 20,000 Norwegians have lost their jobs in the oil and gas industries, but the country has not fallen into apathetic despair. Norway can afford to keep moving thanks to the large savings from earlier oil income.  The government made a firm decision to start a structural reform and turn the economy towards new directions. Norway did not get stuck on secondary issues.

More trade and communication

I have often wondered why Finland does so little business with Norway. This cannot be explained by the fact that Norway is not an EU member – neither is Russia. Nor can it be attributed to language issues, given how actively we trade with Sweden. Logistics can’t be blamed, either, since other countries do seem to get their goods and services delivered to Norway quite easily. The main reason is simply a blackout in information distribution. We know relatively little about Norway, and Norwegians know relatively little about us.  Maybe this has to do with arrogance on both sides: the Norwegians with their oil business and we Finns with our Nokia. On the other hand, a significant element contributing to Nokia’s success, GSM technology, was invented in Norway, at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim. There are also some technical obstacles hindering co-operation between these two countries, such as issues related to contractors’ value-added taxation.

Finpro and Tredea heading to Central Norway together

Trondheim is the twin city of Tampere. These two similar-sized cities are both university towns and innovation hubs. Finpro and Tredea Oy are organising a joint long-term co-operation initiative with Central Norway, following the successful, example of persistent Finnish-Norwegian co-operation between Oulu and Tromsø. The importance of co-operation between regions and national-level operators is emphasised in international projects such as this. There are no instant profits to be gained in Norway – nor anywhere else – and adding a ”Norway supplement” to prices would be detrimental.

The key to success follows the old, proven recipe: hard work, networking, and sharing stories of what Finland and Norway have to offer each other and what they need from one another. Mutual innovation co-operation and investments will be reflected in the traditional import and export figures eventually. However, the invest-in or export perspective cannot be the only starting point for co-operation projects.  Being neighbouring countries, Finland and Norway have great opportunities for partnership.

As a result of the decision made in May, there will be a charter flight from Norway to Tampere for the Subcontracting Trade Fair on 15 September 2015. Tampere Trade Fairs Ltd. will make the framework arrangements, and Tredea and the Chamber of Commerce will find partners for the Norwegian visitors in advance. The visitors arrive on the opening day of the Trade Fair. A couple of dozen participants have already registered for the event, and many others are deliberating their participation now that they have returned from the summer holiday. The majority of the visitors represent the innovation industry and university circles, looking for co-operation. The leader of the group is NTNU’s Senior Adviser, attorney Morten Øien, and the planned discussions will deal with the commercialisation of university innovations and different forms of business. The Norwegians are also interested in the implementation of Nokia’s Bridge programme and the applicability of this model to the lay-offs of oil- and gas-industry employees.

Unfortunately, we were not able to get as many business representatives involved as we had hoped. Innovasjon Norge (Innovation Norway) and the Norwegian government are encouraging companies to expand beyond the country’s borders, but so far there isn’t a massive drive towards this direction, as companies are still doing reasonably well. Norwegian companies are not familiar with our offering or the Subcontracting Trade Fair. Norwegians have also been given the heads up that significant changes are going to take place in the global economy. Anita Krohn Traaseth, CEO of Innovasjon Norge, talks actively about the need for change. Innovasjon Norge is the Norwegian government’s most important instrument for turning the country’s economy and innovation into a new direction.

NTNU Trondheim to become the biggest university in Norway

Trondheim is Norway’s innovation hub. Sintef, the Norwegian counterpart to VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd, has a strong foothold in the Trondheim region. In addition, the oil company Statoil has also established a research centre there. StOlav Hospital is a large university hospital campus, which also includes the Kavli Institute of Trondheim managed by the Nobel prize winners Maj-Britt and Edvard Moser.

Formed as the result of the merger of three local universities, NTNU Trondheim will be the biggest university in Norway.
There are plenty of opportunities for Finnish-Norwegian co-operation. Many Finns are already working in significant positions at the NTNU.

Drømmeløftet – Dream Commitment

Last November, Innovasjon Norge’s CEO Anita Krohn Traaseth initiated the Drømmeløftet – Dream Commitment process. The aim of this process is to encourage all companies and organisations to think about potential solutions that could help revitalize the Norwegian economy and overall situation without the boost of oil and gas industries. Innovation, new business opportunities and change – rationalising oil industry operations – are keywords in regards to the future. The Norwegian government has proposed an additional subsidy of NOK 100 min (over EUR 10 million) payable to growth companies in the regions that suffer the most from the oil industry downtrend. This initiative was designed by strong, influential women: Minister of Finance Liv Jensen, Minister of Trade and Industry Monica Mæland, and CEO Anita Krohn Traaseth.

Six recommendations were defined to form the basis of the structural reform:
1) Prioritising and investing in industries that already possess solid expertise.
2) Developing major companies, creating new small enterprises and encouraging their growth.
3) Implementing innovations for and adjusting the operations of the public sector.
4) Simplifying public financing processes and shifting the focus to genuine market demand.
5) Making efficient use of all labour resources.
6) Encouraging brave decision-making among politicians as well as business leaders.

All of the above-listed matters are familiar in Finland, too. Innovasjon Norge plays a key role in their implementation. Finns are welcome to join the Norwegian Dream Commitment initiative. We can hope to gain a positive attitude and the will and courage to see opportunities in return. In Tampere, Innovasjon Norge will be represented by the CEO’s strategic advisor Per Koch.

How about listening to the field already? How about arranging a systematic think tank initiative among companies and organisations? The traditional task of the welfare society has been to take care of the underprivileged and enable an even distribution of welfare, relying on the available resources and values underlying decision-making at the given time. How about extending the think tank initiative to also cover such social groups as the unemployed, pensioners, children, and youth?

The world is full of opportunities, both around the corner and around the globe!

Sirpa Kuusela
Project Manager
Finpro ry

Sirpa Kuusela is a Project Manager at Finpro ry and the organiser of the Trondheim-Tampere visit at the Subcontracting Trade Fair 2015 in co-operation with Tredea Oy. She has over three decades of experience in entrepreneurship. After successfully selling her printing business, she found a new path and mission for her life in Norway:
”Call it coincidence or fate, my daughter moved to Trondheim with her family. For the past three years, I have been networking and exploring the Trøndelag region. I detected a good buzz in Trondheim. My story is to be continued – I am a persistent, tough piece of ancient Northern pine, ’aihki’. I am known as the Bestemor fra Finland – Grandmother from Finland.”