The Nordics featured strongly in fDi's 2012/13 small regions rankings. Sweden’s Greater Stockholm was ranked first overall, with Denmark’s Copenhagen second and another Swedish region, Västsverige, coming 10th. The Nordics also did well in the human resources category, taking first place (Greater Stockholm), seventh (Finland’s Seinäjoki), eighth (Copenhagen) and ninth (Västsverige). In addition, it featured prominently in the business-friendliness category, with Greater Stockholm achieving second place, Copenhagen coming fifth and Västsverige 10th. The top three small regions for infrastructure were all Scandinavian: Västsverige, Greater Stockholm and Copenhagen, respectively.

Seinäjoki's rapid development

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Representatives from Seinäjoki say that as Finland’s fastest-growing city, it is putting a lot of effort into making the region more attractive to foreign companies and investors. Dr Jorma Rasinmäki, mayor of Seinäjoki, says: “We are the most entrepreneurial area in Finland and the spirit of entrepreneurship has made Seinäjoki one of the country’s top players in terms of GDP, employment rate and population growth. We have increased the number of jobs by more than twice the national average and population growth has been the fastest among medium-sized and large Finnish cities.”

Helped by its strong human resources record, the biggest investments in the region are traditionally in the construction, technology, logistics, and trade and services industries. “Industrial sites/plot sales have tripled over the past 24 months compared with the 20 years previous. The same rate of growth has continued into 2012. This has meant huge investments for the private construction industry. Big public investments which started in 2009 have aided development and are keeping us on track for even greater expansion. Private investment in residential construction in Seinäjoki is also at the highest level in Finland,” says Mr Rasinmäki.

The area is becoming a real industrial and logistical hub, according to Mr Rasinmäki. He says: “We have investment opportunities in the food production, metal, construction and housing industries. As the sixth largest regional market, Seinäjoki is home to a number of interesting retail and shopping centre development projects. We are also becoming a logistical hub offering various business opportunities for foreign as well as local companies.

"Our latest opportunities are in the fields of information and communication technology, and data centres. We are a prime location for data centres and are actively courting data centre developers and users. Further development of these sectors will enable us to offer an even more competitive environment that’s ideal for supporting new business initiatives as well as making us more attractive to foreign companies considering relocating to the area.”

Economic perks

Switzerland’s Greater Zurich region made a strong showing across the board in the European Cities and Regions of the Future ranking, coming sixth overall, second for economic potential, sixth for human resources, second for quality of life, third for business-friendliness and 10th for infrastructure.

Unsurprisingly, eastern European regions swept the board for cost-effectiveness, with Romania’s Bucuresti-Ilfov achieving the highest score, and the Serbian regions of Indjija, Sremska Mitrovica and Vojvodina taking second, third and fourth places, respectively. Ukraine also shone in this category, with Shumsk, Ternopil, Mogiliv-Podil'skiy, Vinnytsya, Transcarpathia, Poltava and Zaporizhia filling the remaining places.

With so much investment reliant on soft factors, quality of life is a key requirement for investors keen to attract the right calibre of staff. In addition to Sweden, Switzerland and Denmark, regions in the Netherlands (Utrecht), Spain (Navarra), Belgium (Brussels), France (Val De Marne and Yvelines), Ireland (Greater Dublin) and the UK (Thames Valley) also made a good showing in this category.

The category for business-friendliness highlights just how much of Europe is open to business, with three former eastern bloc regions reaching the top 10. The Czech Republic’s Prague notched up first place in this category, but other post-Communist locations of note were Slovakia’s Bratislavskýkraj and Ukraine’s Shumsk.

Strategic advantage

The FDI strategy category contained a mix of regions from right across Europe. The UK’s Northern Ireland, Thames Valley and Isle of Man were ranked third, sixth and ninth, respectively, while France’s Val De Marne and Bouches Du Rhône were placed seventh and 10th. The Nordics again featured highly, with Denmark’s Copenhagen taking first place, Sweden’s Greater Stockholm region achieving fourth and Kainuu in Finland coming fifth.

Pomurje in Slovenia was ranked eighth for its FDI strategy. A spokesperson for its regional development agency, RDA Mura, says that since 2006, foreign investment in the area has increased significantly and the number of companies benefiting from foreign capital has risen by 90%. RDA Mura's figures also reveal that companies with mixed or foreign capital account for 12.84% of all employees in the region and more than one fifth of annual turnover.

The spokesperson says: “Between 2006 and 2011, RDA Mura directly supported 11 new investments with a total value of €25m and which created 866 new jobs. We also helped foreign investors to access a total of €7m in government subsidies. Foreign investors who have put their faith in the Pomurje region have also picked up the government’s foreign investor of the year award for entrepreneurship.”

One of RDA Mura’s key aims is to attract investment from Austria and Germany. Its strategy has paid off with nine out of 13 of the region’s top investors coming from these countries.

small regions stand tall tables