High-tech flourishing where smokestack industry began

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Tampere is the place where large-scale industry first came into being in Finland. The power that the Tammerkoski Rapids provided attracted men of vision to the city to set up woollen, linen and paper mills as well as engineering works. The first small paper mill was opened already in 1800, but it was only when James Finlayson opened a cotton mill 21 years later that industrial growth really took off.

Tampere has fared a good deal better than many other industrial cities. Radical structural change did not bring the ruin that many had feared, but rather a new upswing. The city's traditional heavy industry split itself up into its constituent parts, specialised, concentrated on research and development - and those ingredients added up to a formula for success. The upswing gained extra strength from the new companies in the information- and medical-technology sectors that set up operations in the city. Now Tampere can boast of being a leader in several sectors in a Finnish, European or even global context just like 200 years ago.

The cotton girls went, metal stayed

Image size 13 Kb By the middle of the 19th century, mills covered every inch of the banks of the Tammerkoski Rapids, machines roared, chimneys belched smoke and people were flowing into the city. At least a half of the Finnish industrial workforce lived there. The most famous members of that labour force were the cotton girls, thousands of whom worked in the spinning mills.

But times changed and traditional industry began weakening at the seams. The textile industry had almost completely disappeared by the beginning of the 1990s. The metallurgical and engineering sector underwent radical restructuring and was relocated to new sites far from the rapids. The only major industrial installation still in operation there is the TAKO paperboard mill. It belongs to the Metsä-Serla group and its high-quality product is used for packaging such luxury items as French perfume. The mill in the heart of the city does not bother anyone; the waters of the rapids are unpolluted and fishermen reel in their catches right in front of the mill.

Even though the industry moved out, the buildings remained. Now the dignified old redbrick structures have been lovingly restored and pulsate with new life. Some have become boutiques, workshops, restaurants and museums, whilst others have been converted into dwellings.

World market leaders

The metallurgical and engineering sector weathered the structural upheaval in style and its expertise and advanced R&D have helped make Tampere a centre of very high technology. More and more companies have every right to add the attribute "world's leading supplier in its sector" to their names. They include manufacturers of everything from crushers to straddle loaders for handling containers, from rock drills to walking tree-harvesting machines - the list is a long one.

"I wonder if there's any other concentration like this in the whole Nordic region - over a dozen world leaders in their respective sectors," says Juha Kostiainen, the city official in charge of economic affairs.

"However, the mechanical engineering side sprang from an old tradition of artisan skill, and it was only when the structural transformation began that product development entered the scene. By contrast, companies in the information- and medical-technology sectors have had a very strong grasp on research from the very beginning."

Companies stay if people like the place

The establishment of a University of Technology in Tampere in 1965 was a significant development for companies. The political climate in Finland in those days was not especially favourable for cooperation between universities and the corporate world, but also in this respect Tampere steered its own course. From the very beginning, the University made close cooperation with companies a cornerstone of its work, and the fruits are now being harvested. "In a certain way, it amounted to a technological leap, and that in turn interested other companies and drew them here," explains Kostiainen.

Image size 13 Kb The Tampere officials responsible for promoting economic development in the city have every reason to be satisfied: clusters representing several different advanced technology sectors have grown up in the region. They are at different stages in their life curves - so the city does not have all its eggs in one basket. Now the city fathers are turning their main attention to making the region a place that the "brains" of these companies find an enticing place to live.

"Companies have to locate where people feel contented. Schools, child care, safety, hobbies and cultural services are among the most important things. There is no doubt at all that this city is becoming like Silicon Valley, a place where high-skill companies and a high quality of life find each other," says Kostiainen.