The annual Arctic Business Forum started on Wednesday in Kemi with very optimistic tones when it comes to the current business climate.
The organizer of the event, Lapland Chamber of Commerce, has collected some figures in its yearbook, 2018 edition of which was published during the Forum. A sample of numbers show the big picture clearly.
Turnover of companies in Lapland is up 17% and exports almost 25% during the first quarter of 2018. The export growth figure of 2017 was 18%.
Tourism in Lapland increased by 9% during 2017 and overnight stays of international tourists are up 22 % in 2017, the total number of international travellers is 1.48 million.
“In 2017, it looked like a new business boom”, summarizes Mr. Timo Rautajoki, CEO of the Lapland Chamber of Commerce.
In a wider perspective, the yearbook calculates the total value of planned (2018-2025) investments in European Arctic region – including Murmansk and Arkhangelsk – up to 76.8 billion euros, over 23 billion more than was estimated a year ago. The transport infrastructure is now the main field of interest, leaving oil and gas and wind power behind.
This trend was clearly visible in the Arctic Business Forum program, which on the first day devoted much time to the “Great Arctic Railway Debate”. In that debate, the panel participants came mainly from the business world and no critical voices were heard regarding the general need of a new railway connection from Finland to the Arctic Ocean. However, not everyone agreed with the proposed new line from Rovaniemi to Kirkenes in Norway. Mr. Marko Varajärvi from the Council of Torne Valley spoke strongly for the Tornio – Svappavaara – Narvik routing option while the others were fine with the selected Kirkenes route.
Mr. Kustaa Valtonen, entrepreneur and angel investor, is working together with well-known Finnish businessman Peter Vesterbacka to develop the Helsinki-Tallinn railway tunnel with Chinese and other investors. According to him, the Arctic railway plans need more ambition: the passenger traffic estimates are too low and prospects for increasing tourism have not been adequately considered.
Ambassador Harri Mäki-Reinikka urged more discussion on the interests of the European Union in regard to the Arctic railway plans.
The railway plans were made public in early March by Ms. Anne Berner, Minister for Transport. Since then, a Finnish-Norwegian working group has been established to make the plans more concrete. The task will include an extensive round of hearings, including the Sami, who have been strongly against the plans. The deadline for the working group is at the end of 2018. As the parliamentary elections are coming up in spring 2019, the current government will still have some time to work with the issue.
Photos (c) Jouni Teittinen / Arctic Business Forum