Four weeks ago, I started in a new job position: Director Regional Business Development at Troms County Council. The transition to this position is a continuation of my commitment to economic development in Arctic Norway and the International High North.
The regional level in Norway consists of 19 County Councils, three of which are located in Arctic Norway. Troms consist of 26 000 km2 land area: coast, fjords, river valleys and highland mountain ranges. This is the same size as Massachusetts or half the size of Denmark. The city of Tromsø is the biggest community, including almost half the county’s inhabitants of total 170 000.
In Norway, the regional level of government is responsible for secondary education, culture sector, cultural heritage, public dental health, roads and public transport on ground and sea, regional planning and regional business development.
For the time being, there is an ongoing regional reform in Norway, reducing the number of county councils and strengthening them as functional units to provide more coherent economic and labour market regions. The regional government will be empowered to manage several current national government policy areas and public administration task within transport, business development, innovation and regional planning.
During October, the tasks and responsibilities to be delegated from the State to the Counties will be deciden on. In addition, the National Assembly will determine the number of new regions. Parliament has previously decided that there will be 11 regions from 2020. If this decision is confirmed, Troms will be merged with Finnmark, the neighbor to the north.
Troms Business Development Office, which I’m the head of, consist of 24 employees, working within a broad range of economic development tasks. The office is secretariat for several public development funds, targeting sector wide development projects, like business cluster development, and cross-sector development efforts. A significant amount of the grants is awarded to research, development and innovation projects connecting science and business, but all kinds of business sectors have the opportunity to apply for funding for development projects, examples are: Infrastructure for Logistics, Collaboration Bodies within Tourism, Infrastructure for Feature Film and TV Production, National and International Sports Events, Business Clusters, Collaborative Expo Booths for Clusters or Industrial Sectors and Local Food Processing.
The Regional Business Development Strategy of Troms has four focus areas:
- Experience Economy: Industries that have in common that they help create experiences. In the experience economy, the attention from product and service delivery is shifted to the customer’s experience as the value-creating element.
- Circular Economy: Due to the circular economy, the resources in the economy remain in a cycle, so we can improve resource utilization.
- Industrial Innovation Capabilities: Focus on knowledge, expertise and technology that gives more innovation and business development related to our natural resources and the management of these.
- Local Value Creation: Local value creation occurs when local and regional resources and advantages are transformed to national values. Business is the most important factor for the growth of regions.
Troms Business Development Office is also an authority, giving permits to aquaculture production sites in Troms. The industry is in rapid growth, last year the production of farmed salmon in Troms was 180 000 metric tonnes. This is more then 1 000 kilograms of salmon per inhabitant in the County: The export value and the importance for local employment is significant.
Establishing or financially supporting Arenas for regional development is an important task for the office. Troms County Council is one of the leading partners of Arctic Frontiers, an annual international conference on Arctic Policy, Business and Science in Tromsø.
Troms County Council has previously supported two of my initiatives, when I was in the management consultant industry: High North Atlantic Shipping Study and Stakeholder Engagement Project (2016-2017), co-funded by Maine Port Authority and Rambøll, and Arctic Capital Tromsø – Opportunities for Business in Tromsø (2017). Both projects have contributed to new development initiatives: City of Tromsø is now running a three year Arctic Capital Project, with Troms County Council as a major funding entity, and the High North Atlantic Business Alliance was founded in May 2018, a business development collaboration between the port cities Tromsø, Torshavn, Reykjavik, Nuuk, St. John’s, Halifax and Portland.
The transition to the new position represents a continuation of my commitment to local governed internationalization of the Arctic, with a particular focus on the development of business relations with Arctic neighbors and near Arctic regions. The next weeks, I will represent Troms County Council and the business community in Troms on international arenas in Brussel and Reykjavik. At the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik in October, I will moderate two breakout sessions, for High North Atlantic Business Alliance and for Fram Centre.
My ambition is to remain a link between international stakeholders and business in Troms, something I have been lucky to be in my former roles.