Episode IV.4 – North-East Iceland – territorial needs
Location: Verkmenntaskólinn á Akureyri
Date: March 9th 2018
Participants (organisations): UNMFFREO (France), FD MFR Reunion (France), IFOCAP (France), Sol et Civilisation (France), OFFA (Belgium), Verkmenntaskólinn á Akureyri – VMA (Iceland), GAL Napoca Porolissum (Romania), Viva Sol (Lithuania), BSC (Slovenia), EBDA (Iceland), University of Akureyri Research Center (Iceland) and Akureyrarstofa (Iceland).
We started the second day with a seminar in VMA. The speakers at the seminar were representatives from local actors that are involved with development in the area.
The first speaker was Baldvin Valdimarsson from the Eyjaförður Business Development Agency (EBDA). EBDA is a cooperation of seven municipalities in Eyjafjordur. The agency is a leading player in the business development for the area, with the main goal of increasing employment opportunities, strengthening economic growth, furthering variety of jobs, creating favourable conditions for new projects and making the area a desirable alternative for residential choice. The aim is to see corporations taking advantage of the service available, to promote the innovation and research activities related to the University of Akureyri and other research institutions in the area. EBDA works in close cooperation with banks, companies and individuals to facilitate business startups and secure funds and facilities for a successful cooperation, international and domestic.
The labour market in the area is diverse and Eyjafjörður has national leaders in some sectors. Iceland´s leading seafood company is located in Akureyri but it also operates in different places nationwide and abroad as well. There are also big companies in the food and beverage industry that operate in the Eyjafjörður area and Becromal, an Italian high tech company, is an “innovation” key player in the market of aluminum foils for electronic capacitors. These companies need skilled workforce and as Baldvin pointed out, VMA has played an important role when it comes to providing skilled workers for those companies. For instance, VMA was part of the reason why Becromal decided to base their company in Akureyri. It is also important that VMA is able to respond and adapt to changes in the area.
The second speaker was Hjalti Jóhannesson from The University of Akureyri Research Center. Hjalti started by describing the geographical characteristics and demographic issues of the area. North Iceland is one of the rural regions in Iceland. It is a challenging area in geographical terms as it is very mountainous which makes transport challenging. The labour market in the area is relatively insulated but the economy is mostly based on agriculture, fishing, tourism and service. Manufacturing in the area has been decreasing since it collapsed 30 years ago with large textile factories and other large workplaces closing down. Many lost their jobs during the collapse, mostly older women and those with less education.
After the collapse, service and the information society have become stronger instead. The University of Akureyri is an example of that. It is also a response to different demands from workers about their educational background. The University has been instrumental in the economic growth of the region and is central in its planning for a future as a knowledge-based society. It has been particularly keen to utilise the possibilities of flexible online studies and places an emphasis on cooperation with university- and knowledge centres which operate in rural areas. Distance education is very important for rural development as the far distance students tend to stay in the local rural areas. From discussions regarding educational needs of the local economy there appears to be more need for technical studies, vocational training and computer science. The educational needs for the Northeast region will be further looked at in research project in 2018. The biggest challenge for the area is to keep the population capacity and have young people with good education move back to the area.
The third and final speaker was Þórgnýr Dýrfjörð from Akureyrarstofa, Office for Culture and Tourism in Akureyri. Þórgnýr reminded the participants that we do not have regional government structures in Iceland. We only have the national government and then municipalities. Akureyrarstofa is a part of the municipality structure and serves as an office for local culture, tourism, employment, events and marketing. The board of Akureyrarstofa makes recommendations to the town council on strategic planning for these issues, coordinates action in these areas, and serves as an intermediate between the municipality and local businesses.
Þórgnýr presented the idea behind the newly opened Innovation Center in Akureyri called the Factory and Fab Lab which is located in VMA. In the Factory, people can get access to facilities to work on their business ideas at a very low cost. Project managers at the Factory provide people with comprehensive guidance on how to prepare, start up and operate a company free of charge. Fab Lab (Fabrication Laboratory) is equipped with all kinds of tools that can create virtually anything. Anyone can use the Fab Lab to test their creativity and implement their ideas by designing, formulating and manufacturing things with the help of digital technology. The users do not have to pay for using the facilities at the Fab Lab, it is funded by the municipality.