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Once upon a time in the North…

A perfect storm has come to Skelleftea in northern Sweden. It started with the arrival of battery manufacturer/recycler Northvolt and has been boosted by the region’s efforts to support sustainable business. Major industries are exploring the opportunities, attracted by the Nordics’ clean and relatively cheap water powered energy. But there’s one problem: not enough manpower to make it happen. Or, at least, not yet. A massive campaign aims to pull in no fewer than 100 000 people from all over the world in the coming decade.

In a dense forest outside Skelleftea, a city some 200 km south of the Arctic Circle, battery giant Northvolt is building what is claimed to be the world’s greenest battery manufacturing plant. It’s a multi-billion-Euro project and it’s huge, as visitors can see from a hill overlooking the site. ‘Once completed, the total complex will cover an area four times that of the Pentagon,’ says Ingemar Ylikangas, director of business development at Revolt, Northvolt’s battery recycling unit.

Why start such a project in northern Sweden? ‘Obviously you need a massive amount of electricity for such production site and here we find sufficient green energy and relatively cheap energy,’ he points out. Northvolt will supply the fast-growing global market of e-mobility. Carmakers such as BMW, VW and Volvo, as well as energy producers Hydro and Vattenfall, are among the investing partners.

Part of the plant is currently in operation, with more than 1 500 people already onsite. By mid 2023, according to Ylikangas, Northvolt plans to have its 20 000 m2 recycling facility (total complex to cover 500 000 metres) up and running and will recruit an estimated 2 500 extra workforce as production ramps up.

‘WE NEED ENGINEERS! – LOTS OF ENGINEERS!’, the company website shouts.

Chasing talents

The question is where to find them? Obviously not locally in the sparsely populated (450 000 people) and ageing north of Sweden. The answer is outside Sweden, mostly. Companies like Northvolt, together with local municipalities, have declared a challenging ambition for the next decade to attract 100 000 people from all over the world to settle and help make the green transition happen.

‘It’s not only highly educated people we’re looking for,’ says Chana Svensson of Swedish recruitment bureau Mind Dig. ‘For every engineer, you need at least three other people. Nurses, hairdressers, restaurant waiters, you name it. Not to mention construction workers; in the coming years, some 4000 new homes have to be built.

The inflow of newcomers is clearly happening. In the bars and restaurants of Skelleftea, you hear English, Spanish, Chinese spoken by people hoping to build a new, happy life in what Svensson calls ‘the Silicon Valley of Arctic Europe’.

Natural beauty

What does it take to make a city and region attractive for newcomers, particularly young people? ‘This part of the world has so much more to offer than cheap and clean energy alone,’ says Christoffer Svanberg of business consultancy Node Pole who helps investors pick the best location for their production facilities. Major energy consumers such as data centres are among his clients. ‘Obviously, most…

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