Transformation to knowledge economy

In the 1970s, the manifold processes and impacts of globalization and knowledge economy began to have an effect. Importantly, the key stakeholders in Tampere saw this as an opportunity and took many proactive measures. It was commonly agreed in the city that the university was an institution of the future and therefore a strategic priority. During the 1960s, the growth coalition managed to lure two universities to relocate from Helsinki to Tampere. First was the University of Tampere, with its forte being research and education in society and health; soon after this UTA established the first chair in computer sciences in the Nordic countries. UTA was quickly followed by a small unit that would become the Tampere University of Technology, soon to be recognized as the “university of industry”. These two were later supplemented by Tampere University of Applied Science, which provides the local labour markets with practically oriented professionals.

During the following decades, industry learned to collaborate with all of them in an intensive and versatile way. Regarding their high share of external funding for R&D (more than 60 per cent), both the two scientific universities belong to the national top four. This is achieved through intense bidding competition and unarguably reflects their strong participation in the generation of new knowledge that benefits society. The universities have greatly helped to create a “local buzz” as well as the much-needed “global pipelines” that have fed the local innovation environment with a continuous stream of fresh ideas and knowledge.

At the beginning of the 1990s, Finland plunged into a deep recession, and this certainly hit Tampere hard, too. For some years, one-fifth of the workforce was unemployed. “What does not kill you, it will strengthen”, the Finns say; and indeed, the steps taken from the mid-1990s were large and influential. In retrospect, it seems that the recession sped up the development of the knowledge economy.

In the current decade, every fifth inhabitant of Tampere is a student in a higher education institution and every third inhabitant over 15 years of age has a degree from a higher education institution. Out of almost 10,000 R&D workers, more than half are employed by the private sector.

For many years, R&D expenditure has amounted to more than 900 million euros annually. This represents approximately 15 per cent of the national total. Per inhabitant this is more than 2,000 euros, as it has been since 2006, and thus Tampere represents the national top level in R&D intensity. Of gross regional product, R&D accounts for about seven per cent. Parallel figures are seldom seen among European cities.

For the past two decades, 150–300 patent applications have been filed annually in Tampere. It is particularly important that these applications are distributed evenly into different patent categories, indicating that there exist highly diversified knowledge bases within the city, enabling combinations of competences and manifold interfaces fruitful for innovation, as witnessed in the development of this time.

There are therefore strong arguments that Tampere is a city of knowledge economy and of innovations, in the full meaning of the terms. But in concrete terms, what are those major innovations in the city over the course of time? The following chronological list provides some evidence as examples:

1837, the first modern factory building in Finland (Finlayson)
1843, the first paper machine in Finland (Frenckell)
1882, the first electric light in the Nordic countries (Finlayson)
1900, the first locomotive manufactured in Finland (Tampella)
1909, the first automobile manufactured in Finland
1923, the first radio broadcasting in Finland
1965, the first ice hockey hall in Finland
1974, the first NMT mobile call in the world (Nokia)
1978, the first ATM machine in Finland
1984, the first biodegradable implant in the world (Bionx Implants)
1991, the first GSM mobile call in the world (Nokia)
1993, the first analogue cellular data card in the world (Nokia)
1994, the first GSM data card in the world (Nokia)
1995, the first walking forest harvester in the world (Plustech/Timberjack)
1995, the first Internet call in the world (Nokia)
1996, the first personal digital assistant in the world (Nokia)
1998, the first digital x-ray image in the world (Imix)
1999, the first WAP server in the world (Nokia)
2001, the first mobile camera phone in the world (Nokia)
2001, the first automated mine loading in the world (Tamrock)
2003, the first walk-through display in the world (Fogscreen)
2004, the first automated container terminal in the world (Kalmar)
2005, the first rapid test for coeliac disease in the world (University of Tampere/Biohit)
2008, the first preservative-free prostaglandine eye-drop for glaucoma treatment in the world (Santen)
2008, the world’s first operation in which a jaw bone was grown from the patient’s fat cells using stem cell technology (Regea)
2009, the first antibiotic-releasing biodegradable implant in the world (Bioretec)
2012, the first 41-megapixel camera phone in the world (Nokia)
2013, the first hybrid straddle carriers in the world (Cargotec Kalmar)
2012, Nokia 808 PureView (41-megapixel camera phone)
2013, Nokia Lumia 1020 PureView
2015, Nokia OZO virtual reality camera for professional content creators

As can be seen, Nokia’s impact has been considerable during the past decades, as Tampere has been a major global research and product development hub for the group since 1986. Nevertheless, the two other key clusters have shown remarkable innovativeness. There are, indeed, three key fields of competences and three industrial agglomerations based on these strengths locally: a wide-ranging ICT cluster, a versatile life sciences cluster and an intelligent machinery cluster that represents the successful transformation of the traditional mechanical engineering industry. Let us take a glance at these three.

ICT cluster: In a city with 200,000 inhabitants, the mobile industry alone employs more than 6,000 engineers. A key long-term strength of the cluster is its wide-ranging spectrum of industries, application domains and product competences. The cluster covers three key areas: mobile handsets and embedded devices; telecommunications networks; and Internet and cloud services.

Tampere has not been immune to the changes in Nokia Group and in Nokia-driven mobile cluster in Finland. However, the situation has not been as gloomy for Tampere as for some other Nokia sites. This is because Tampere has been a key R&D site for the most sophisticated mobile handsets as well as for long-range strategic research, with a lot of embedded local knowledge. The former activities, however, became a part of Microsoft, and consequently the group emerged in 2014 as a new important player within the city. Nokia also remains important in its historical place of birth, retaining hundreds of R&D specialists in telecommunications, digital mapping and location applications and services and long-term research and IPR portfolio management. In the current structural change of Tampere, the ICT talent pool and knowledge base evolved around Nokia is utilized in the development of a “city-as-a-platform” -based urban innovation ecosystem, and in related open data, open government and participation driven new digital services and smart city solutions.

In addition to Microsoft, in recent years numerous other international companies have come to Tampere, including Accenture, CGI, HCL, Tata Consulting Services and Intel. Besides these large ICT multinationals, there is a fast-growing cohort of startups and knowledge-intensive firms.

Life sciences cluster: The city has a combination of multidisciplinary, technological, biomedical and medical expertise in education, research, healthcare and business sectors. In recent years, the health, wellness and biotechnology sector in the city has been the fastest growing in Finland and received the largest number of private investments in business development. Tampere is, indeed, globally at the forefront of research and product development for biomaterials and tissue technology, and the research carried out has given birth to several companies based in the city that operate in the global market.

Intelligent Machines represents the traditionally strong technology cluster in Tampere and its immediate vicinity, with more than 1,000 companies that account for added turnover of more than 7,000 million euros and employ more than 34,000 people. R&D investments account for more than 750 million euros annually, which demonstrates the seriousness with which the leading knowledge-intensive companies take sustaining their innovativeness.

There are ten world market leaders operating in Tampere that form the backbone of the cluster. These include AGCO Power (global leader in diesel engine technology); Bronto Skylift (global market leader in truck-mounted hydraulic platforms); Fastems (globally leading supplier of automation to the mechanical engineering industry), John Deere (global market leader in design, manufacture and distribution of forest machines); Cargotec (global market leader in cargo and load handling solutions); Metso Automation (market leader in process automation solutions for the pulp and paper industry); and Sandvik (globally offers the widest range of equipment for rock drilling, rock excavation, processing, demolition and bulk-materials handling).

Importantly, many of these have very recently invested in the city, indicating that, despite their global expansion and offshoring activities, those companies are convinced by Tampere’s importance, especially as an innovation environment. Let us take the example of the world’s largest production automation and testing site for container terminals located in Rusko, Tampere: Cargotec Group invested approximately 35 million euros in its brand new technology centre in 2012. But isn’t it strange that a company producing machinery for ports has decided to build such a large unit in Tampere, an inland city with no coastline?

“For us, Tampere is an important center of technology development, acting as the spearhead in the intelligent machinery and energy sufficiency technologies.” Mikael Mäkinen, CEO of Cargotec.

What has independent research to say about the innovation tradition in Tampere? An extensive study on the geography of innovation in Finland by VTT (the Technical Research Centre of Finland; Valovirta et al. 2009) concludes:

Tampere city-region has maintained its strong position as one of the most innovative locations in Finland also in the light of the results of this study. Of all the identified innovations, altogether 367 innovations originated from companies that had… development activities in Tampere. Metal and mechanical engineering industries have remained robust and have developed a considerable amount of new products over the decades. In [the] 1960s and 1970s the key product developers [in] these industries were Tampella, Valmet, Lokomo and Rauma-Repola. These traditional industrial groups have gone through many kinds of changes in their ownership during the last three decades. In 1980s, the key innovator was Kvaerner Pulping, in 1990s there were Timberjack and in 2000s Metso Power, among others.

Another strong cluster is the electronics industry which has its roots in innovations by Valmet Automation (nowadays Metso Automation). Nokia’s active product development of mobile phones began in the 1990s in Tampere. (…) In addition, there has been active product development conducted especially in [the] rubber and plastics industries (Finlayson and Nokian Tires) as well as in [the] paper industry (especially Raflatac’s adhesive papers and labels).

The most important perceptible transformation of the recent decades has been the considerable increase of innovation activities within the telecommunications, research and development, and business services industries from 1980s onwards. Most of the innovations have emerged from small knowledge-intensive firms…” (p. 44)

Hence the legacy of innovativeness by the more traditional industries and large companies, crucial for the future, has been passed to and sustained in smaller firms and in new industries. As is known, the immediate environment is very important for small, growing firms, especially in the first phases of their life cycle. This has been well understood for a long time in Tampere, traditionally dominated by large-scale industries.