Kerttu Saalasti institute of University of Oulu organised seminar “Planning for Structural Change – SMEs and resilient rural regions”, which was focused to new views and research results on SMEs’ resilience in rural regions. It was facilized by Simo Kekäläinen, University of Oulu.  Regional Excellence (REx) research group studied growing and international SMEs at Nivala-Haapajärvi sub-region as a part of FOUNDATION-project and found that the strong collaboration, trust, and creativeness are focal issues to make this region resilient and able to operate successfully far away from main market areas. However, there are challenges such as wellbeing of entrepreneurs and young people moving into urban centres, which means that there are constant need for educated workers. These are critical factors for the competitiveness of SMEs in these rural regions.
Project coordinator of FOUNDATION, Senior Lecturer Economics, Munster Technological University (MTU), Ireland, presented the role of Northern Ostrobothnia in the background of the current project. He noted that the discussed study region is having a big anticipated structural change: closing the Pyhäsalmi mine, which requires capability to innovate very different business activities.
In her presentation Marjo Kolehmainen, CEO, Federation of Finnish Enterprises Northern Ostrobothnia, stated that the resilience origins from entrepreneurs own motivation, but they do need a strong faith for the excellence of their own products. According to Tiina Rajala, Development Director, Council of Oulu Region, the resilience is like a safety belt and it is made with genuine and proactive collaboration of developers, educators and companies.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has been testing resilience of companies and regions like never before” stated Jaakko Simonen, Associate professor, Department of Economics, Accounting and Finance in Oulu Business School, University of Oulu. “It has been a big shock, not only globally, but also regionally. The regional resilience means capability to foresee, prepare, reply and cover from shock” he continued.
After inspiring keynotes from perspectives of SMEs, regional developers and research, it was time to continue with panel discussion. Grounding for the discussion was done by Ossi Kotavaara, Research director, Regional Excellence (REx), Kerttu Saalasti Institute, by presenting key findings from the regional analysis. What kind of advices the panellists would give for policy makers to support SMEs competitiveness?

Panelists included:
Janne Hietaniemi, Project Manager, International affairs, NIHAK ry
Ville Isoherranen, ‎Director, School of Engineering and Natural Resources, Oulu University of Applied Sciences
Tapio Koivu, Vice Rector for Education, the University of Oulu
Tiina Rajala, Development Director, Council of Oulu Region
Tiina Suutari, Group Leader, Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment, Northern Ostrobothnia

Image: Panelists Janne Hietanemi, Ville Isoherranen Tiina Rajala, Simo Kekäläinen, Tapio Koivu and Tiina Suutari

Simo Kekäläinen finally summarized advised given by all panellist: ”Celebrate diversity”, ”hire young people”, ”collaborate at all levels and sectors”, ”see opportunities and find the right partners” and  ”believe in yourself and your ideas”.
Recording of the seminar can be found at: the University of Oulu Youtube channel