Tampere – a hidden gem of the Nordics

Have you heard about Tampere Region? Located in the Western part of Finland, it’s the second fastest growth centre in the country and a stronghold of R&D and advanced technology in the Nordic and Baltic Sea Region (NBSR). Oula Välipakka, Director, Renewing Industry, of the Tampere Region Economic Development Agency, explained to Julia Lemagnen how his location brings together talent, innovation and the experience economy.

If you’ve heard of Western Finland Region (Pirkanmaa), it might be because it’s the location of the town of Nokia, home of the renowned mobile phone company of the same name, and the region has sizeable wireless telecoms R&D activity. But there is more to the region than just Nokia. Western Finland has a strong manufacturing base with over 110,000 people employed in 7,700 companies, and a long engineering heritage with a mixture of traditional and high tech activity. Sometimes referred to as the “Manchester of Finland”, Tampere is Finland’s second city, with an established base of large investors such as AGCO Power, Cargotec/Kalmar, Nokian Tyres and Santen Pharmaceuticals. It is also at the heart of Finland’s electronics and ICT innovation, with companies such as Intel, Huawei and u-blox having research operations there.

Industry 4.0 and renewing industry

Oula Välipakka is the Director of Renewing Industry at Tampere Region’s economic development agency, and a longstanding champion of the city. His role is to help companies to find business opportunities, partners and people in Tampere and the surrounding area. He has a particular focus on Industry 4.0 – the “smart factory” approach to manufacturing which links, among other technologies, the Internet of Things and cloud computing. Oula and the team at Tampere Region have organized themselves a bit differently from other economic development agencies. At the beginning of 2017 they re-structured from a more traditional function-based approach to an unusual and modern sector-based approach. Their three sectors are: “renewing industry”, “experience economy” and “smart city solutions”. ICT and advanced technology are the threads that run through all three sectors.

They aim to assist companies with specialist expertise in growth and talent attraction, set in an innovation environment. And research and scientific development are definitely at the core of Tampere’s offer. Finland as a country is well known for its academic expertise, but did you know that Tampere boasts three of the country’s highly rated universities? The University of Tampere (UTA), Tampere University of Technology (TUT) and Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK) are at the leading edge of technology development and provide a high level of collaboration with business and scientific communities.

High tech industries and sectors

What types of companies is Oula hoping to attract to Tampere? “We don’t define whether they are corporates or SME, we simply want to engage with companies that are big enough to have their own R&D activities. For instance, a German-based company, one of the world’s leaders in climate control and thermal management for the automotive industry, has established an R&D site there. The Tampere unit will research the instrument systems of the future, for example for autonomous and robot cars. They have hired people from a wide range of different disciplines,” Oula Välipakka says. “It’s not enough to just have the talent though, companies want the business environment to be right for them too. It’s about fitting together the pieces of the jigsaw of talent, innovation and business environment.”

Oula’s aim is to use the banner of “renewing industry” to bring together companies offering technologies for better use of resources across industries and sectors, analytics, intelligent machines, cleantech and advanced manufacturing techniques in a region of Finland already skilled in high tech. A good example of an industry-academic collaboration can be seen at Konecranes, where university students worked with the company to develop a new smart glove controller. This system allows the crane operator to control the crane with the touch of the fingertips, and the project won the Demola Tampere award in 2016. Demola is a student innovation-industry project platform created in Tampere in 2008 and now operating in 13 locations worldwide.

High tech manufacturing and engineering, for instance in the automotive sector, are very important to Tampere. The city already has expertise in autonomous vehicles. Cargo handling provider Cargotec uses autonomous harbour container handling devices; and Sandvik uses autonomous mining equipment for underground tunnelling in the pitch black. To adapt this technology to cars is not that big a leap, according to Oula. In addition, Rolls-Royce has an autonomous ship research centre in nearby coastal city Turku, and both TUT and the leading research centre in the Nordics, VTT Technical Research Centre, are involved in the development of unmanned ships of the future.

Is Tampere Region targeting any particular countries? One third of Finland’s FDI projects come from Sweden, so this is an important target country for the economic development team. Germany is also a big focus because of its automotive industry. Oula says: “Although it is challenging to persuade German companies to invest, we have had some good dialogues and we are hoping we will be able to do more in future.” Tampere has benefitted from Chinese investment in the past – drone manufacturer PowerVision and telecoms equipment provider Huawei are there already, and Oula and his team are working closely with the Invest in Finland team based in China.

The experience economy and Smart Tampere

What about the “experience economy” sector, which in Tampere Region’s organization structure covers gaming, media, tourism and creative industries? Oula explains: “Previously, young, highly educated people would choose where to live based on where the company was located, but nowadays they select a city based on the experiences the city can offer them, and companies will choose where to locate their sites based on the talent and skills available. Therefore, issues such as smart city become relevant – how long are the traffic jams, what does the city offer in terms of leisure and quality of life, and how much more free time can you have compared with another city.” TUT alone has 1,500 international students studying in Tampere, and most of them want to stay on in the city, but the challenge is to encourage local companies to offer them jobs before their visas run out. “Leadin, a user experience company, has really benefitted from hiring people from different countries and cultures. Leadin operates in five locations including Tampere and their diverse workforce means they can create services that are relevant to different country markets from the outset.” Oula points out.

The local administration in Tampere is also interested in technology as a buyer. In Autumn 2016, they launched Smart Tampere , a major new program covering seven different themes for the city’s future development, including mobility, industry, health and government. The aim is cooperation between companies, organizations and citizens, and US giants Cisco and GE have expressed their interest in the program. The City of Tampere also supports the work of New Factory, the Tampere-based innovation centre and business incubator, including the ITS Factory intelligent transport project. In addition, New Factory is part of BELT, an EU cross-border co-creation program for smart city in the Baltic Sea Region.

The future looks bright – the future looks smart!

Tampere is pushing forward into the future with new ideas and technologies, and the economic development agency is equipping itself to meet the future needs of businesses in high tech industry at home and abroad.

So now you’ve heard about Tampere – the city with a bright and smart future!



Julia Lemagnen has worked in international business for 25 years in both business-to-business and business-to-consumer market research. She previously worked as Market Intelligence Manager at logistics specialist Unipart Group, and as part of a UK-based brand research agency she handled marketing and research assignments for clients such as Microsoft and 3M. She is experienced in a wide range of industries and research methods and has been working in the field of economic development and foreign direct investment since 2002. Julia co-founded MCJ Lemagnen Associates in 2010.