Industrial growth and development in Northern Finland : the case of Oulu 1970-2002
This thesis explores the reason why the region of Northern Ostrobothnia and in particular the city of Oulu became known as the High Tech capital of the Nordic countries during the 1980s and 1990s. After World War II, the region’s economy was dependent upon its traditional industries of forestry, wood processing, pulp and paper manufacturing and to a lesser degree on iron and steel manufacture. In common with other parts of Northern Finland, Northern Ostrobothnia suffered from high unemployment, low educational standards, outwards migration and below average standards of living and life expectancy. Aware of these problems, the national government in Helsinki embarked on a series of measures to improve this situation. First and foremost, a university was established in Oulu and its first three faculties were teacher training, medicine and engineering. The university was charged with the specific tasks of educating and conducting research to benefit the economy of Northern Finland. It was realised that economic changes were essential and attempts were made to build an electronics industry in the region to make it less dependent on natural resources. To facilitate economic developments, infrastructural improvements were made and branches of VTT and Tekes were established in Oulu. A key factor here was the government realisation that decision-making for improvements in the region should and would be devolved to the local authorities. That was the opportunity for the city of Oulu to seize initiative, and in concert with the University and a group of local entrepreneurs, to set up a Technology Park, Technopolis, in 1982 at Linnanmaa beside both the university and VTT. These small beginnings provided the foundations for sectors such as electronics, computer software, telecommunications and biotechnology sectors to emerge gradually, so that by the year 2000 there were nearly 12,000 high tech jobs in the area. A crucial addition to this development in the long term was the arrival of Nokia to Oulu. At first Nokia concentrated on cable technology and base stations, but once it diversified into telecommunications and built up partnerships with local firms a clearly-defined high tech cluster became visible. Within the cluster, there is significant cooperation between the relevant New Technology Based Firms (NTBFs), Nokia and the local educational and research establishments. The outcome, at the time of writing, is that Oulu has gained a world reputation as an innovative centre of high technology, and it is the circumstances behind this reputation that the remainder of this thesis seeks to investigate.