Exports from long-struggling northern Norway have increased by 38 percent in the last year, compared to an 8 percent rise in the rest of the country. An area rich in natural resources and a blossoming tourism industry finally seems to be realizing its potential, and now the biggest issue in the region is finding the manpower to keep up.
A recent business trends survey developed by several collaborating research institutions suggests that development in northern Norway shows no signs of slowing down. As the managing director of Sparebank 1 Nord-Norge, Hans Olav Karde, told newspaper Aftenposten, “the northernmost part of the country will have the largest focus on growth and development in years to come.”
Following the announcement in April of a large discovery of oil and gas reserves in the Barents Sea by Statoil, optimism is on the rise. Last year was a record year for petroleum exports from Northern Norway, and four separate oil platforms will be operating off the coast this summer. Recent agreements between Russia and Norway on divvying up the Barents and creating a visa-free zone along the border are also expected to spur more oil and gas exploration, with bases on the mainland.
Renewable energy is also an important industry in the region, helping to provide power to the rest of the country and Scandinavia. Several hydropower plants and wind power parks are under development, and state energy firms Statnett and Statkraft have plans to invest about NOK 20 billion (USD 3.8 billion) in the region, building power lines from Nordland, via Hammerfest, and all the way east to Kirkenes.
Mining and fish farming is another important source of revenue, with the price of salmon doubling in the last five years. The tourism industry, meanwhile, is no longer mostly active in the summer season, with the dark winters and Northern Lights attracting more and more visitors and several companies offering winter activities like snow-scooter safaris and dog-sled running in addition to skiing. Norwegian coastal cruise line Hurtigruten reports a 50 percent increase in their winter season bookings.
Employment in the north is at full capacity and one popular saying is that “those who want work will find it.” Counties such as Finnmark lack skilled professionals, recruitment remains a challenge despite long-standing tax and economic incentives, and one in five will retire in 10 years, adding a sense of urgency to the labour situation.
Beyond finding manpower, the challenges that lay ahead in keeping up with development are housing projects as well as the need for an improved transport network for commuters and export purposes. Better roads, ports, ferry and air connections are imperative. Though the construction industry has seen a increase in recent years, some say the pace is not high enough in the largest cities and will lead to a substantial increase in real estate prices.
Karde told Aftenposten that another important element of sustainable development will be to change long-held opinions of the region. Northern Norway is viewed by many as an area reliant on large amounts of government support and subsidies. It is time, he suggests, for them to open their eyes and see that it is in the north that business is booming.
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