Scandinavian hi-tech hub packed with brand names

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 April, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 April, 2003, 12:00am

The worldwide economic slump has not dented Denmark's plans to make its booming Oresund region Europe's answer to Silicon Valley in the United States, its promoters say.

The Oresund region, which includes both the Danish and Swedish sides of the Oresund Straits at the mouth of the Baltic Sea, is a Scandinavian powerhouse of hi-tech industries, centred on information technology, telecommunications, food production, environmental services, transport and logistics and education and science. Its burgeoning biotech and pharmaceutical industries lie within an area dubbed Medicon Valley, which ranks number three in Europe for biomedicine research.

The Danish capital Copenhagen and the Swedish city of Malmo lie within the Oresund region, which has the eighth highest GDP in Europe, ahead of Berlin and Hamburg, and a population of 3.5 million people.

International brand names like AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Bayer operate in Medicon Valley while Intel, Ericsson and Motorola are among the big information technology and telecommunications firms in Oresund.

Food giants like Nestle, Unilever and Campbells have set up Nordic headquarters or research and development centres in the region. Multinational organisations like Unicef, Maersk and IBM have distribution centres there, because of its accessibility to the rest of Europe.

Denmark is a world leader in some areas of the environmental sector such as wind energy turbines. A series of networks in specific sectors, such as the Medicon Valley Academy for the biotech sector, underpin Oresund's growth as a scientific centre, because they ensure a steady flow of information and ideas.

By having these hi-tech industries operate close to one another, it helps them extend their operations into new areas. For example, Danish brewer Carlsberg is developing a medicine based on the yeast it uses to make beer, in Medicon Valley.

According to Jacob Saxild, spokesman for Copenhagen Capacity, the investment agency promoting Oresund, the region is withstanding the worldwide economic slowdown.

'We can feel the downturn, but we are not entering into a depression or serious economic situation. It is one of the richest regions in Europe,' he says.

Oresund's success lies in the fact that Swedes and Danes are working together, he says.

'There were already technical universities existing on the Swedish and Danish sides of the sound, but when the bridge was built between Copenhagen and Malmo in the mid 1990s, that started the co-operation between Denmark and Sweden in developing the Oresund region.

'Copenhagen is a metropolitan city and on its own would be mid-sized, but with the Swedish side of the Oresund region added in, it brings it much closer to Berlin, Paris or London which are in the super league of big cities. Having the Swedish side brings it significantly added value,' says Mr Saxild.

Oresund's universities have formed the core for much of the region's development, because they provide the research facilities and a labour pool of specialists. With 130,000 students, 12 universities and institutes of higher education and 10,000 scientists, the region's capacity for research and development matches those of London, Paris and Moscow in some areas, Mr Saxild claims.

He says Oresund is an excellent base for firms wanting to trade or expand businesses in the eastern Baltic when the European Union expands across the region in 2005.

The Baltic was one of the world's busiest trading centres in mediaeval times. With the EU's eastern expansion, it could be so again. Copenhagen was once linked to the Hanseatic League, an alliance of north German and Baltic cities that dominated north European trade in the 14th century.

'We can be a springboard to eastern Europe, especially to the northeastern part of Europe in the Baltic, Poland and Russia, because we are closely linked both historically and economically. Therefore EU enlargement is welcomed,' says Mr Saxild.