“It’s likely that few consider moving to Germany or The Netherlands. However, Berlin or Amsterdam are attractive places for many. In people’s minds cities and places are many times more important than nations or regions. In people’s minds things like freedom, democracy, safety, local culture, weather and openness are important. Recommendations from friends or influencers are also meaningful. Cities are brands, like corporations, and their brands have value.
When you move from brand and perception to concrete decision-making the process changes significantly. Concrete things like language issues, childcare, education opportunities, public services, and functionality of the process become important. Attractive brand does not help for long, if practical issues make moving or establishing business difficult.
Still, there is some unexplained magic in the winning combination of attractiveness and functionality. No-one would move to New York if functional everyday life and easiness of living would be determining factors. Being successful in attracting critical professionals requires just the right combination of lure and common sense. In a sense, this doesn’t differ from many aspects of human life.
I dare to say that we have understood in principle and in practice the importance of attracting skilled professionals to Helsinki. During the last three years we have added more English services. We have created more English-language education and day-care opportunities. We have created campaigns and utilized opportunities. Still, we are only halfway.
Helsinki is a city for a good life. We’re doing well in many international rankings. A year ago Slush and Helsinki asked Slush goers about their experiences of Helsinki. How did they see Helsinki as a potential home, or a place for investment or business? All perceptions proved right. We are an open, interesting, functional and safe community where everyone speaks English. It was still sad to see that regardless of the good perception almost none of the interviewed considered Helsinki as a future home for their business. Something is still missing. The winning combination of attractiveness and functionality is off balance.
In my conversations with business leaders and international professionals who have moved to Helsinki I have come to the undeniable conclusion that moving to Finland is difficult, takes too long and via not very service-minded process. Even basics are lacking. It is still difficult to find information in English. Visa and permit processes take too long and are too complicated. The process is not straight forward even to Finns returning to the country.
Especially during and after the Covid crisis the inherent qualities of Helsinki and Finland are more valuable than ever. If we had truly understood the value and need for attracting skilled workers and investments to this country, we would have – already a long time ago – improved critical functions and services. Most of which depend also on the will and commitment from our national government. I think we would have very realistic chances of getting returning people from Silicon Valley or new people from Facebook, Amazon or Google offices to Helsinki. The concrete problem is still awareness and the actual process leading to re-location. As a city Helsinki can do a lot – but not everything. Every piece of this puzzle needs to work.
This year Helsinki acquired the Helsinki Business Hub from the other partners. We have already started a study into how we should re-organize critical city functions in order to succeed in further development of international competitiveness of Helsinki. The study will be complete early Fall and our goal is to start the new operational model by the end of the year. Here we are not trying to repair something that’s broken, but our goal is to make a giant’s leap in international competitiveness and reach the level of other Nordic capitals in critical measures. Attracting skilled workforce is a major target.
Today we’re presenting the Helsinki Freedom -concept, that aims to enforce Helsinki’s international attractiveness as a possible new home city especially for ICT professionals. Helsinki Freedom portrays Helsinki as new kind of free city, where everyone can make their own life. In Helsinki we believe, that everyone has the right to good life. The same goes for corporations who’s wellbeing depends on finding the right people for the right jobs.
Skilled workforce that finds Helsinki attractive deserves a functional, easy and thoughtful way to make their dreams a reality in Helsinki and Finland. We need them. Competition is fierce and every other major city is a competitor. We can’t let poor process or lack of marketing stand in our way. We also need decisive action from different government entities and ministers. I will personally forward these conversations this week.”