Finland has a very strategic location on the interface between the markets of East and West. A lot of companies wanting to take advantage of this have established operations in the Helsinki region, and it is paying off for them. Helsinki can offer them all the services and infrastructure that a company needs for successful operation in a competitive economy - and which its employees expect.
Nyrki Tuominen is the manager of the Business Development Unit that the city authorities has created to encourage foreign companies to move in. "We help them to locate here," he says. "There are many ways they can do so; buying an existing company is more common that setting up a new one. We help by compiling basic information about opportunities that they can examine when considering locating and then we assist them in implementing their decision once they have made it."
With a university and many other institutions of higher education, Helsinki has plenty of well-educated, multilingual people. The city authorities and the academic world cooperate closely. Under a agreement signed by the Helsinki School of Economics and Business Administration and the city authorities in April 1998, the Business Development Unit has commissioned an interview-based survey to investigate the reasons that have prompted foreign companies to choose Finland and Helsinki as their location. "We can already reach a lot of conclusions on the basis of our practical experience," says Nyrki Tuominen. "Even though the Finnish market is small on the international scale of things, it is big enough for companies that are sufficiently specialised. Besides that, Helsinki can be a gateway to Scandinavia, Russia or the Baltic States - or to all of them. This geographical advantage has been clearly reflected in the numbers of companies investing here in recent years."
The Helsinki Metropolitan Development Corporation was set up in 1993 with the task of creating links on the practical level to Russia and the Baltic States. Helsinki is the main shareholder, with neighbouring municipalities also participating. The Corporation has created a very good network of personal relations in the target countries. It has centres in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Tallinn, which not only distribute information, but also rent rooms to companies. Demand has outstripped supply.
Nyrki Tuominen is not at all satisfied with Helsinki's recognition profile in the world. "There's a lot to be done in that respect, and the same goes for Finland as a country. This is very comprehensive work, in which the tourism and congress marketing people have the same goals as ourselves. At the beginning of 1998 the city and surrounding municipalities launched a campaign to market Helsinki - the best-known name - specifically to companies. We are trying to focus our marketing efforts on exactly the right targets, such as investment consultants, suitable sectors of business and also directly to companies that we see as having the greatest potential."
Experience has shown that companies that set up in Helsinki stay on; the number that have pulled up stakes is vanishingly small. Of the about 3,000 foreign companies that have established in Finland, around 2,500 are in the Helsinki region and 1,000 in the capital itself.