Development at the polar circle

I often ask people who have recently moved to Rana what made them choose to come here, and most of them have either got a good job opportunity or fallen for someone here and come for love. I got work at Handelshøgskolen in Mo, where I teach and do research on innovation and circular economy for sustainable development. I had no links to Helgeland and had never heard of Mo i Rana, so my first response was to go on Google to find out where Mo is in Norway and what type of a place it is.

After living in central Europe for several years, returning to the north with real winters, midnight sun, and an economy that includes industry, fish, and farming felt like returning home.

Research on what type of regions do well in innovation, development and growth usually finds that bigger cities, with established universities, research organisations, good infrastructure and many strong companies, have the highest growth and level of innovative activities. In Norway, that would be the areas around Oslo, Bergen and Stavanger, which is also what we find.

Based on this knowledge, I did not expect to see a polar circle region making the most of the local resources and expertise to drive strong regional development in Helgeland. In the last three years, we witnessed Freyr locate their activities here in Mo, the new industrial harbour is being developed, and the building of the new airport is underway. These are big, important projects for this region, but there is so much more going on, there are also big plans in industries such as the energy sector, fish farming and others. It is no wonder that the people here believe in a bright future for this area.

I have not been here that long, but the celebrations for the tenth anniversary of Campus Helgeland and for SIF this month have made me look back and think about what I have learned about the area and what can explain the energy and drive for development I find here.

During the panel discussions, it became clear that the close collaboration between the research institutions and centres here in Mo, together with Kunnskapsparken, Rana Utvikling, ACT, Mo Industry Park and other vital actors are seen as a critical factor in the positive development here in Helgeland. Over the last ten years, this region has been building an ecosystem based on strong collaboration between different actors that are the foundations for development and innovation in the area.

Living in a region with so much progress and development is not all good news, or at least it comes with challenges. Two of those are directly linked to the big plans and activities in the region. Firstly, we must focus more on sustainable development and take more significant steps. In some areas, the industries in the region are doing well, including using renewable energy, new development in better waste management and using leftover materials, specifically in the Industry park.

However, some speakers during the SIF celebrations pointed out that this is not enough and that Norway needs to step up its efforts, not the least in the use of IT technologies and in educating young people with strong technological and business knowledge. The role of the education system is thus essential here, both in building specialised programs for the engineers and IT experts we need and in ensuring that business students have strong capabilities in supporting sustainable development. Campus Helgeland and the different programs offered here are already working towards this with support from industry partners in the region.

The second challenge is that we will need a lot of people to move to the region to fill the new jobs. We need to convince them to move here for a good opportunity. This also means building housing and other services for the new inhabitants. But the challenge is not only to provide the services or how this will all affect the local culture and traditions.

This challenge is therefore linked to social sustainability, the quality of life for all, both the people that have deep roots here going back generations and the new ones that come to be a part of a dynamic region with big plans for the future. Put differently, we need them to fall in love with a dynamic region that offers opportunities for people that want to be a part of building the future of Helgeland.