I have now spent nearly five years in my post as Espoo’s Economic and Business Development Director. In that time, our operating environment has undergone significant, wide-ranging chage. Currently, around 30% of higher education graduates consider self-employment as their most likely career path, when just five years ago the same figure was as low as 5%. Small businesses are expected to be significant employment generators in the future. Social media has become the most potent communications and marketing channel available, and new business opportunities are being created in these interfaces. For a business to operate internationally is no longer the preserve of the few – it is now the rule, not the exception. Savvy business people are making full use of the benefits offered by digitisation, as they generate new, customer-driven services.
As I see it, the role of cities today is to act as a platform for the services underpinned and made possible by these rapid developments. As a new city enjoying strong growth and a positive outlook, Espoo is ideally placed to do just that. What could be a better location for a new, nimble business start-up than a top spot right next to a brand new metro line?
The new look Iso Omena shopping centre was a hive of bustling activity when it recently celebrated the opening of its extension. Not that this should have been a surprise to anyone in attendance, after all, there are more people living within a stone’s throw of this top notch retail hub than in nearly 300 Finnish local authority areas put together. In addition to the new retail services, the day also marked the launch of the Espoo Service Centre (palvelutori), comprising a library and offering cultural and youth services, a child health clinic, health centre, mental health and other allied services, a service hub, a Kela office, and a HUS (Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa) laboratory and imaging centre, along with Kohtaamo, a brand new meeting place for art and culture. In the coming years, Iso Omena is forecast to provide employment for up to 2,500 people.
The Dinner Under the Espoo Skies was one of the most popular events organised during our annual Espoo Day celebrations. Now, if you find yourself out on an Italian piazza, al fresco dining is no problemo, even in November. In Finland, however, you just have to grab your chances on the odd occasion when the ideal, balmy weather is happening. Luckily, the Iso Omena shopping centre perfectly reflects the Finland’s challenging climactic conditions, while still managing to look more like a traditional city centre setting than your average mall. Having realised this, I am enthusiastically recommending our very own ”Big Apple”, along with our other urban centres, to my thirty-something colleague, who ”wouldn’t dream of having dinner in a mall”. The wonderful thing with mall dining is that, once you are done eating, you can go and see a film, top up your travel card, pop into the sports bar for a drink or create a pair of earrings using the library’s 3D printer. Public and private sector services complement one another perfectly – and need to be delivered where the users, the people, are. Soon, they will be just a short metro ride away.