The advantages of Salo and Southwest Finland in the development of a battery value chain
Setting up a battery pack plant in Salo will open up new opportunities for the city to utilise its knowhow. Now, the city aims to create a battery industry cluster in the area, writes Mayor Lauri Inna.
Mayor, City of Salo
After the City of Salo started looking for a new rise after the wind-down of the mobile telephone industry, one of the key tasks was identifying our city’s strengths. The product development, the plant and thousands of jobs were gone, but there was still much left: the knowhow built over the years about how to transform an idea into an industrial product, how to sell it and how to export it to global markets.
Salo knows how to look to the future. It also knows, what are the elements for building success, even when the idea is met with more scepticism than support.
Bold and quick decisions
In addition to knowhow, success requires an ability to make bold decisions. One of these was the city's decision to acquire, in collaboration with investors from Salo, the ownership of the old Nokia and Microsoft plant area, currently known as Salo IoT Campus. The campus was not acquired as a memorial to the past, but as a development platform for the future, where, for example, the wireless data transfer expertise of Salo will be raised to the next level.
The ability to make rapid decisions and to get things done are also important assets in international competition − of which Valmet Automotive’s decision to place its battery operations on Salo IoT Campus serves as a good example. Many people will surely remember the story published in Helsingin Sanomat in June (HS 10 June 2019), in which Olaf Bongwald, the German managing director of Valmet Automotive, states:
“We had a customer who needed help. We investigated where such help would be most readily available. That place was Salo. We came close to setting up the plant in Germany, but in Salo things got organised faster.”
Continuous future work
Naturally, it did contribute to Valmet Automotive's decision to place the plant in Salo that the campus had existing premises to offer and their modification to suit the purposes of the battery plant could begin immediately. The campus can also provide fully fledged support services to companies, allowing them to focus on what is essential during the ramp-up phase of production. It does not hurt either that Salo is located along good transport and logistics connections.
Although many things in Salo are in order, the city must actively promote the creation of even better operating conditions. This future work includes such measures as ensuring access to education and research resources, availability of labour and competence, land-use planning and supervision of interests, and networking at provincial, national and international levels. The city must also nurture its attractiveness, both in terms of services and accountability, and, at every level, remain an interesting place to be for new residents and businesses alike.
One of the priorities of our urban strategy is being a pioneer in creativity. Creativity is reflected in such matters as the versatile product development partnerships and a start-up style approach to matters. We are constantly on the lookout for new initiatives, for example, in relation to the mobility system of the future, which is also one of the key projects in our strategy.
The beginning of a new success story
Valmet Automotive setting up a battery pack plant in Salo will again give us a new opportunity to utilise the knowhow we have in Salo and to launch the creation of a battery industry cluster in the area, built upon our special strengths. The demand for electronic mobility is in strong growth, and it is very likely that the Valmet Automotive plant will attract other players in the field to Salo as well.
Drawing on our strengths, Salo could focus on, for example, the production lines and processes for battery packs, software solutions utilising battery data, electronic smart power tools and electronic mobility services for consumers, as well as end-of-life diagnostics for batteries.
Salo has already began taking efforts to enable the functioning of an even more extensive battery cluster and setting it up in the area. To attract a battery cell plant to Finland, we are currently working on a preliminary survey with an aim to prepare land areas of up to dozens of hectares in the form of chemical industrial compounds.
We also want to take active part in the international dialogue with industrial operators as regards the development of partnerships with the battery industry. In collaboration with the University of Turku and a wide range of companies, we are already preparing the establishment of a professorship in battery technology. This will lay foundations for research and development concerning the battery industry and recycling solutions, for example.
I believe that Finland has great potential to succeed in the battery industry as part of a strong international network. The future will show what kind of a success story we are writing in Salo this time.