Pyhäjoki & Neighbourhood
Fennonen-Jaakko Simonen

One of the characteristics of the Oulu region is its ability to bounce back and adapt. According to university researcher Jaakko Simonen, that is as important as the region’s competent workforce and sufficient supply of green energy. Photo by Mikko Törmänen

What does the future of the Oulu region look like?

In twenty to thirty years, the Oulu region will be more international. According to Jaakko Simonen, a researcher from the University of Oulu, technological competence and the availability of emission-free energy will attract investments to the area.

In the future, there may be an international data center on the coast of Northern Ostrobothnia or in the Oulu region. This would most likely attract game developers to the region, among others.

Jaakko Simonen, a researcher from the University of Oulu, studies the impact of high tech on regional economy. He believes that a data center will be a possibility in a couple of decades when the Hanhikivi 1 nuclear power plant is in operation and the coastal region is an auspicious location for wind power plants. In addition, data centers like Google favor carbon neutral electricity.

“Finland is a safe country with green energy and a good infrastructure. Digitization will further increase all types of data communication, which will increase the demand for electricity. This will lead to the question of where and how to produce the energy,” Simonen deduces.

Jari Tuovinen, the CEO of Oulu Chamber of Commerce, also believes that the reliable electricity supply from Pyhäjoki will attract data centers to the area. Oulu is a telecommunications hub, and cooling of data centers is easy in the north. An entire ecosystem consisting of cloud service developers, for example, can grow around a data center.

Game and cloud service developers need high capacity and good data connections,” Tuovinen notes.

People cram themselves in cities

Simonen wonders what North Ostrobothnia and the Oulu region will look like decades from now. He believes that the University of Oulu will be a multidisciplinary university focusing on technological research and the city will be more international. Unemployment will most likely not be a problem, as there will be fewer people of the working age, and there will be plenty of jobs in the high tech industry, for example. He does not believe that working hours will be reduced, however.

The health care and social services industry will surely provide employment. For example, psychologists and people in other professions based on human interaction will be needed,” Simonen says.

There will always be demand for services in areas where highly educated people work, because people will always need haircuts, food, and cleaning – just like today. Businesses will also need lawyers and advertising agencies.

“Finland is a safe country with green energy and a good infrastructure.”

Working life will become more polarized: there will be jobs for people with a high and a low level of education, but fewer jobs with an average salary, such as industrial jobs.”

Oulu will manage because of its proven resilience or ability to bounce back and adapt. According to surveys, people want to stay in Oulu even if it means that their salary will be lower. In a report of Business Index North, which studies northern areas, Oulu is listed as one of the growth areas in the northernmost part of the Nordic countries. Other Nordic growth centers include Luleå and Umeå in Sweden, and Tromsø in Norway.

According to a population forecast extending to 2040 published by Statistics Finland last fall, population growth in Finland will be strongly focused on the largest urban centers. Population in the Oulu region will continue to grow at least until the 2030s, which will keep the population in North Ostrobothnia as a whole unchanged.

Labor immigration to Northern Finland is at a lower level than labor immigration to North Sweden or Norway, even though the climate is the same. There is potential here, provided that there are jobs,” Simonen emphasizes.

Who will take care of the elderly?

The dependency ratio, or the ratio between people of the working age and people outside of working life, makes Simonen pensive. Will we go back to the old model where grandpas and grandmas lived at home, being cared for by their children?

That would be a huge change when compared to our current way of life. Resilience is something that will be required from our generation and our children.”

In the 2040s, Simonen will be over 70 years of age. Where does he see himself at that time?

Simonen believes that he will still be living in Oulu, but his children might be working abroad. He might use a car sharing system to drive an electric or gas-powered car.

Simonen is not sure whether he’ll be retired by that time, but working at an advanced age is not a problem for the researcher who is interested in his field of research. He will care for his health himself.

There may a microchip under my skin that is connected to the local health center.”

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