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An even stronger forest cluster in the future

The Finnish economy has always been heavily dependent on the forest industry, which accounts for around 20% of Finland’s total exports. The industry’s broad-based network of expertise represents one of Finland’s strongest knowledge clusters today – and new initiatives are now under way aimed at securing this lead into the future

The success of the Finnish forest industry to date has been based, to a large extent, on major capital investments and the latest technology – whether in the case of pulp, paper and board, and wood products or machinery and equipment, chemicals, packaging and printing, or wood-based construction.

The world is changing rapidly, however, and the Finnish forest cluster can expect to face growing global competition over the coming years. Globalisation is changing the playing field, with demand growing rapidly in Asia and overcapacity becoming a problem on mature markets, and increasing volumes of fast-growing, cheap raw material emerging in South America. The risk that expertise and technology leadership could shift away from Finland is growing all the time.

A new strategy…

Realising the extent of these challenges, the key actors in the Finnish forest cluster concluded recently that a new strategy is needed to ensure the development and strengthening of world-class research. An ambitious goal for a common research strategy was announced in October 2006: to double the value of the cluster’s products and services by 2030, with new products and services accounting for half of the sector’s total revenues.

This strategy highlights the need for work in areas such as intelligent paper and new applications in communications, packaging, housing, and construction, and combining wood with other materials in new ways. Wood constituents and compounds have great potential for being processed into health care-related and functional food products; while wood biomass has a lot of added value to offer when processed in biorefineries to produce chemicals, bioenergy, and biofuels.

… and a more efficient framework to drive it

It was decided to establish a strategic centre for science, technology, and innovation for the forest cluster as one of the centres defined by the Science and Technology Policy Council of Finland. Of the five planned for the first phase, the strategic centre for the forest cluster is the first to become operational.

This happened in 2007, when the major companies in the sector – together with VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, the Finnish Forest Research Institute, and four Finnish universities – established Metsäklusteri Oy (Forest Cluster Ltd.). This will be responsible for initiating programmes and projects and for creating a more efficient framework for collaboration between companies, universities, research organisations, and funding sources.

A strategic centre of science, technology, and innovation for the forest cluster has been established to help secure this key foundation of the Finnish economy into the future.
> Christine Hagström-Näsi
(Published in HighTech Finland 2008)