Copper Country hosts Finnish delegations
Seeks to develop business ties between regions
FinnZone, a collaborative effort to help Finnish companies locate in Michigan, held a welcome and breakfast Tuesday morning at the Finnish-American Heritage Center in Hancock.
FinnZone hosted five companies from central and northern Finland, representing fields such as mobility, energy and advanced wood products. The companies, sponsored by JAMK University of Applied Sciences and the European Commission, are looking to enter the North American market. They will have a full week of meetings with local companies to explore partnership opportunities and additional opportunities to become established in the area.
“This is our third and fourth group already this year that’s been here,” said Patrick Visser, chief commercial officer of Michigan Tech Enterprise Corp. SmartZone. “We’ve had some other companies come. We’ve got commitments from two companies that they are going to locate here, and one has already extended a job offer to a (Michigan Technological University) graduate. So we’re slowly, after COVID, trying to get our momentum back, and we’re seeing some initial success with our efforts.”
Visser listed numerous areas with opportunities, singling out bioeconomy as a particularly strong growth sector.
Also visiting Hancock Tuesday were Ambassador Okko-Pekka Salmimies, consul general of Finland in Los Angeles, and Business Finland, the Finnish government organization for innovation funding and trade, travel and investment promotion. They came as part of a three-day Michigan Economic Development Corp. tour of Michigan to find ways to cooperate in research and commercialization in areas such as the forest bioeconomy, maritime, mobility and clean tech. Next, they will spend two days in southeast Michigan.
After leaving Finlandia University Tuesday morning, the Finnish groups were scheduled to visit Michigan Tech. In addition to presentations on bioproducts and smart ships, they planned a tour of the Great Lakes Research Center.
While Finland has no issue partnering with areas that don’t share its heritage, the cultural connections undeniably make things easier, Salmimies said. He said he was amazed at the reception the Finnish delegates have received.
“When it comes to people-to-people dialogues, this kind of thing that is more familiar gives you more possibilities … it’s an easier start if you are already from the outset interested about the other partner’s culture and the specific characters and nature,” he said.
Visitors got a crash course in the depth of that cultural connection from Jim Kurtti, the former director of the Finnish-American Heritage Center in Hancock. Houghton County is part of the Sauna Belt — six contiguous counties in America where Finns are the major ethnic group.
That connection persisted, whether through Finnish-language media or aid to Finland during the Winter War with Russia. It even survived the death of the last original immigrants, often marked by church records switching from Finnish to English.
“I was a young boy during this period and you can watch the last of these immigrants go, thinking that our identity was done,” Curtis said. “But we’ve been proven wrong.”
Ulla Lainio, commercial counselor for Business Finland, introduced several businesses and Finnish universities looking to establish partnerships in the area. She highlighted Finland’s success in maritime industries, such as leading the world in autonomous and remotely controlled ferries, and having the world’s most eco-friendly bulk carriers.
Salmimies said Tuesday’s visit built on the memorandum of understanding signed between Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Finland’s Minister of Economic Affairs, Mika Lintilä. The visit to Michigan will also include meetings with agencies for natural resources, agriculture and rural development.
Public investment will be key in development, whether infrastructure, real estate or logistics, Salmimies said.
“The governmental support is always needed, especially in these kinds of sectors where the research and science are so important,” he said. “So it needs to be at least facilitated in a framework by the government, also perhaps providing some enabling regulation testbeds and platforms because we’re talking about new technologies.”
Salmimies filled in for Finland’s U.S. Ambassador Mikko Hautala, who is involved in negotiations regarding Finland’s potential entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Events are moving quickly: Salmimies shared a new update that Finland’s president and Sweden’s prime minister will meet with President Joe Biden Thursday.
Salmimies said beyond defensive assistance, joining NATO could help Finland improve trade and strengthen economic security. Finland bought 64 F-35 fighters from the U.S. in December for more than $10 billion, making it the largest purchase in the country’s history. That will also lead to more technical and scientific cooperation, Salmimies said.
“The more secure and stable northern Europe is going to be with Finland and Sweden as NATO members, I think the better it is for American investment plans,” he said, adding that Microsoft had invested in two large-scale data centers in Finland in March. “That’s a good sign that we’re considered to be a stable investment environment, but the NATO membership will even strengthen this.”