Hope Floats: Turku’s Economic Turnaround

Shipyard orders, and car manufacturing are driving the jobs boom in southwest Finland.

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Mein Schiff 6 ship launched from Turku shipyard / Credit: Meyer Turku

Southwest Finland has seen a jobs boom in recent years, but it’s not in the sectors anyone could have predicted.

Even ten years ago, few economists would have said that manufacturing would be bringing good jobs to Finland. The future would be service industries, tech jobs, and digitalisation.

But Turku, and southwest Finland, had other ideas.

A renaissance in shipbuilding, plus new investment in car manufacturing at Uusikaupunki, has lifted the area’s economy.

“The situation in Turku is very good, and we’re very thankful for the German companies and the German people, because they’re responsible for it!” laughs Timo Metsä-Tokila, Strategy Manager at ELY-Keskus, the Centre For Economic Development, Transport and the Environment.

He’s talking about German shipbuilders Meyer Werft, a company that traces its roots back to 1795, building wooden boats on the banks of the River Ems in northern Germany.

Meyer took over operations at the Turku shipyards in 2014 after business hit the rocks with the previous South Korean owners at the wheel. The German company immediately set about sailing the shipyards into calmer waters. And it’s paying off.

“The new owners, and the turnaround they’ve made in Turku, that’s a huge difference from four or five years ago” says ELY-Keskus’ Metsä-Tokila.

“They’ve never had such a long-term view of the future as they do now at the shipyard” he adds.

Knock-On Effect

When the shipyard does well, it boosts business in all sorts of other areas around the city. From the housing market to car sales; restaurants, shops, and many other sectors too.

In a September survey of small and medium sized businesses, 42% in southwest Finland said they had a positive outlook for the economy.

“It may be a sign that growth is on the horizons” said Mikael Pentikäinen, CEO of the Federation of Finnish Enterprises, at the time.

Restaurant on board / Credit; Shipbuilding Completion

Beyond Shipyards

Linked to the shipyard are all the ancillary industries which support it directly. And they’re benefiting too from new contracts and investment.

Shipbuilding Completion is a subsidiary of Meyer, and provides all the interiors in the public spaces on cruise ships: furniture, carpets, ceilings, air ducts, pipes, insulation, shops, restaurants and on-board spas.

The increased business at the shipyard means Shipbuilding Completion, founded in 2009, can also employ more people.

“We have many more people than three years ago” Project Director Iiro Haapanen tells News Now Finland.

“About three years ago we had 20 people. Now we are 50 people. There are some trainees, but mostly skilled people like designers, project managers and foremen, and they are almost all coming from Turku or near the Turku area” he says.

Haapanen has spent 35 years working in shipyards, so he’s seen the ebb and flow of the industry first hand, and right now, they’ve got 3 cruise ships on their books for companies in Germany and Italy.

“I think the economy is better, yes. The shipyard situation helps all the Turku area, not only these people working in the shipyard, but also people in the whole of Turku. It’s a good situation” says Haapanen.

Investment Money

Apart from the shipbuilding orders at the Meyer Turku yard, there has been significant investment from the German parent company since they took over ownership.

In September, they announced that they would double their investment to €185 million, to pay for “a new plate cutting line, a new profile cutting line and a new panel line to the steel halls of the shipyard” according to the company.

Meyer Turku had previously announced a profit of €25 million in 2016, and with ship building orders on the books until 2024, the region can expect a sustained period of economic stability around the Turku coastline.

Production line at Uusikaupunki / Credit: Valmet Automotive

Car Plant

In the town of Uusikaupunki, the car’s the star.

The Valmet Automotive car production facility inked a new deal earlier this year with German car giant Daimler to start producing a new Mercedez-Benz model in 2018.

And it means the company needs about another thousand workers on top of the people already at the plant, producing two different types of Mercedes.

“They’ve hired more than two thousand people, so there’s a lot of people from Turku region and southwest Finland who have got a job now” says ELY-Keskus’ Timo Metsä-Tokila.

And there’s an important distinction in the types of work that is available, opening up car manufacturing to more people

“There’s a big difference when you compare the types of jobs available in the shipyard and the car factory” explains Metsä-Tokila.

“Shipyards have really exacting standards, you need to be a professional. At the car factory the requirements are not so high. They have to train people to work on the line. That’s something they’ve done very successfully and they’ve been able to attract people” to the region, he says.

Service Sector Lags Behind

Timo Metsä-Tokila notes that it’s interesting for him and his colleagues to see how manufacturing companies are leading the drive to create new jobs in Turku and southwest Finland.

However, they’ve not seen any real growth in the service sector. And that means jobs are available here too.

“At the moment we can say for quite many professions in southwest Finland we are lacking people. We are planning a fairly big campaign to attract people from all over the country to southwest Finland because we need people for the jobs which are available.”