Interestingly, Oslo does not have just one mayor, but a group of city commissioners, each in charge of a specific sector of government. There is a governing mayor who handles the more administrative side of things, but the city commissioners are in charge of everything from investment to urban development. Hallstein Bjercke is Oslo’s current city commissioner for culture and business development, and it is his remit to bring in foreign investment to the city.
Luckily for Oslo, and the rest of Norway, the city has been padded from the effects of the global recession, says Mr Bjercke. “The Norwegian economy has been solid compared with the rest of Europe. GDP is high and growing, and when it comes to investment, Oslo is in a healthy situation,” he says.
However, he adds that the city's officials would like to attract more foreign investors and global talent. Part of that strategy will be the launch of a new investment promotion agency (yet to be named) in early 2013 that will be a streamlined version of investment promotion agencies that Oslo has had in the past. “We had several different groups that did not always work together in the same direction, not with the same aims and goals,” he says. “So now there will be a melding together that will seek to attract FDI and try to attract regional headquarters for international companies and global talent.”
While oil and gas, and services around those sectors, continue to dominate Norway's investment landscape, Mr Bjercke believes there is investment potential in the IT, communications and healthcare sectors. “Our challenge is to attract more companies to place their headquarters or at least their regional headquarters in Oslo. Stockholm and Copenhagen are doing much better than us at the moment in attracting regional headquarters, so that is a challenge,” he says.
Mr Bjercke adds that there is no quick answer as to why Sweden and Denmark are at an advantage at the moment, though part of it boils down to the fact that both countries are geographically and figuratively closer to Europe. “They are both members of the EU and they are more integrated and connected,” he says.
“Norway does, however, have a European economic agreement with the EU, so that means we are fully integrated into the European market, but that is not widely known,” says Mr Bjercke. While Norway continues to have a strong industry in oil and gas, there is an understanding both within Oslo and Norway as a whole that the country needs to diversify its economy. “Though the forecasts are good, we have to create other legs to stand on, to not be so dependent on the oil and gas industries,” says Mr Bjercke.
Companies such as Microsoft, which purchased the Oslo-based search technology firm Fast Search & Transfer ASA (FAST) in 2008, Nokia and Hewlett-Packard have all made investments in Norway in the past few years, while Norwegian firm Telenor is one of the 10 largest telecoms companies in the world. Medical technology and shipping are also strong sectors for investment in Oslo.
“Our first and most competitive advantage is the quality of life in Oslo,” says Mr Bjercke. “Norway has been voted, for several years running, the best place to live in the world by the United Nations Development Programme. We are a city where our infrastructure functions well, we have good schools, we have good healthcare, a good welfare system. So quality is our competitive advantage," he says. “Though it’s expensive and cold," he jokes, "you have a good life here.”