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Seeking an Ecosystem Where Innovation, Skills and No Small Talk Intertwine?

Helsinki is a beautiful and efficient city, but it lacks the joie de vivre of some of its bigger European siblings. Let’s face it: for about eight months of the year, Helsinki is a miserable place to live, thanks to the challenging climate.

 

So why then do we love it?

 

Answering this question helps us to better understand the rationale behind the Regional Headquarters Project, a collaboration between Helsinki Business Hub, Helsinki-Uusimaa Regional Council and Amcham Finland. The project’s goal is to entice five corporations to make their regional HQs in the Helsinki metropolitan area over the next year and lay the groundwork for more in the future.

 

On 18 April, the Project was launched at Amcham’s office and speakers broke down aspects that make Helsinki a contender as regional seat of corporations.

 

First, Oliver Rittgen, C.E.O. of Bayer Nordic, explained that of the 250 global companies with headquarters in the Nordics, only 9% of them are in Helsinki—and of those most are Finnish companies, with only seven being foreign-owned. So the Regional Headquarters Project starts with a humble foundation.

 

He continued by saying that it is assumed that Finland is just too expensive. Everyone knows that Finland has the best education system in the world, world-class innovation and research, but can a company afford to help pay for such an ecosystem?

 

The surprising answer, based on research presented by Eva Rytter Sunesen, Managing Economist at Copenhagen Economics, is that Helsinki is actually a less expensive location to set up a regional headquarters than other, similar European cities, such as Stockholm, Copenhagen and Berlin.

 

But this begs two more questions: why haven’t more companies set up HQs in Helsinki in that case, and how could they be enticed to do so?

 

One reason companies haven’t set up their regional HQs in Helsinki is because money follows money. The more mature and established an economy, the more FDI it attracts. London is an obvious beneficiary of this, as is Stockholm to a lesser degree, while cities like Helsinki tend to suffer. The momentum of FDI and other companies taking the plunge first hasn’t caught up with Helsinki—yet.

 

If the Regional Headquarters Project has things its way, this will change, even if incrementally.

 

Among other attributes, I reckon, based on discussions with Amcham community’s expatriate leaders, that Helsinki will draw regional HQs for the following reasons:

 

First, communicating is as straightforward as the landscape. You don’t have to go through a song-and-dance routine to make a deal, everyone knows everyone and everything is a short walk or tram ride away. No small talk, but sometimes that can be a relief.

 

Second, while your 20s are probably best spent in some larger metropolis such as Berlin or New York City, once it comes to balancing work and life—and especially kids—Helsinki is a kind of nirvana many only dream of.

 

Third, Finland has a long tradition of breaking pre-existing molds and traditions. When it comes to counterintuitive innovation, creative solutions, new directions, Finland can be a jolt in the arm for any company hoping to stay ahead of the curve. Finns are weird and think in strange ways; this can be harnessed to disrupt even the most sedate areas of business.

 

Also, it is important to remember that Finland should not, as Oliver Rittgen emphasized, be viewed as a market, but in terms of its ability to provide an ecosystem where innovation, production and skills intertwine to create business benefits for those that choose to set up shop here.

 

By Eric Bergman, a Finnish-American world traveler who is creating content at Amcham Finland