Southwest Finland has a long shoreline and a proud history in maritime industries. It was thus a natural choice that one of the region’s Smart Specialisation (S3) priorities should be blue growth and industrial modernisation, with the aim of taking cooperation to the next level.
Successful implementation of any strategy is based on identifying common targets and joint benefits, and utilization of relevant connections and networks. Focus on new priorities works best, when combined with an acknowledged, straightforward and easily accessible framework. Therefore, in Southwest Finland, S3 and all of its three priorities – blue growth and industrial modernisation, innovative food chains as well as health and biotechnologies – are integrated and implemented jointly within the Regional Strategy.
Connecting dots, measures and people
Regional Strategy implementation in Southwest Finland relies on active thematic networks operating within the framework of the regional Partnership Forum, which is the Strategy’s main tool. It operates as an initiator of cooperation, a gateway into regional networks and facilitates stakeholders' visibility and access to new actors, whilst enhancing cross-sectoral dialogue. The networks are informal and formed bottom-up, based on demand and thematic areas identified during the formulation of the Regional Strategy.
S3 priority networks are part of the Partnership Forum. They are in the phase of creating a common understanding of the S3 conceptual framework and the possibilities offered by the European S3 Thematic Platforms and will identify thereafter the next steps for organising their cooperation. A key function of all Partnership networks is to keep up-to-date with European funding and innovation programmes.
The Partnership Forum networks operate through meetings, projects and communication. They identify Regional Strategy measures relevant to their thematic focus and further their implementation. They keep track of the work on an open access web application, where one can see which measures are tackled in which network, and what is being done: information is easy to gather. The role of the Regional Council in the Forum is that of a facilitator and an enabler, and a provider of the structures. It also summarizes the progress in annual reports.
No need to be blue in a smart blue region
Blue growth and especially maritime industry have been blooming in Southwest Finland since the last couple of years. Currently at its starting phase, the Blue Growth Network already consists of regional authorities, cities, higher education institutes, interest groups and business support organizations, through which the Network also consults businesses of their interests. To support the networks’ operations, the Regional Council organizes, for example, biannual meetings of an expert group for maritime business to exchange ideas, share information on current issues and to discuss future actions.
The focus of the Blue Growth Network is mainly in maritime industry, but it maintains close links with other Partnership Forum networks such as the Tourism Forum, the Natural Resources Forum and the Foresight Academy. The latter is of high importance to the maritime sector thanks to its effort to get engineers to the region, either through education or various recruitment measures. There is a shortage of workforce and it is crucial to find sustainable solutions on how to get the skills needed to the region. The authorities have launched a national media campaign together with companies, municipalities and educational institutions, to encourage the workforce to move to Southwest Finland, presenting the region’s employment, living and recreational opportunities. Moreover, a new university network called FITech was formed in 2017, with the goal of serving Southwest Finland with competence in engineering. FITech creates new cooperation models bringing companies, universities and students together.
A key actor in the Blue Growth Network is the Interreg Baltic Sea Region Programme financed project "Smart Blue Regions" that promotes blue growth through better implementation of regional Smart Specialisation strategies. This is done in cooperation with partners from the Baltic Sea region through continuous dialogue and numerous project initiatives. As part of the project, the Southwest Finland team has launched a dedicated Blue Southwest Finland website (www.bluesouthwestfinland.fi) that aims at presenting regional success stories and serves as a kind of a business card for blue growth in Southwest Finland, sparking cooperation both regionally and internationally. In addition, the project has identified blue measures from the Regional Strategy and set out an implementation plan.
Results push to take the next step up
According to a study conducted by the Regional Council, Southwest Finland received about 22 MEUR funding from EU sources (such as Horizon 2020 and Erasmus +, nationally funded programmes like ERDF and ESF, and Interreg programmes like Baltic Sea Region and Central Baltic Programme) for new projects in 2017, of which 27 % were related to the region’s S3 priorities. Project results can also be seen through a national funding programme, called Regional innovations and experimentations (“AIKO”) the Council manages. It puts special emphasis on projects that support positive structural change (booming industries) in our region. Since 2016, AIKO has funded 9 medium or small size projects with S3 focus with 560 000 euros, and a large urban growth development project with S3 focus with approximately 1,9 MEUR. It is obvious that the region’s S3 priorities are important and actual for our industry as well as for the public sector.
In addition to the blue growth priority, Southwest Finland has ambitions for all its S3 priorities. Smart Specialisation is expected to grow into an integrated and acknowledged part of Southwest Finland's regional strategy; tools such as the Entrepreneurial Discovery Process will be explored where applicable. Stakeholders' positive and forward-looking attitude, openness to cooperation, and high-level expertise play a key role in realising the regional S3 targets that will be pursued within the framework of the Partnership Forum.