Thursday this week, I gave a speech about place management in Kinda. It is a municipality in Östergötland County, southeast Sweden, with some 10,000 inhabitants. The setting was the local business development week and we met in Kinda Folkets Hus where about 40 people from all sectors of Kinda society had gathered. The speech was very well received and I was happy to find an audience that did not hesitate to ask questions and discuss among themselves.
Kinda is far from the main roads and railways in the Swedish countryside with beautiful nature, nearly 500 small lakes and historic rural landscapes.
For many years, decades, people have moved from the countryside and small towns to the big cities. They move for better work opportunities and a more exciting life when they are young. In Sweden the four major cities have increased their population with more than 20% over the past twenty years, while the population in the country has increased with seven percent.
For small municipalities like Kinda, this means it has become increasingly important to be clear on what they stand for and what opportunities they can give to people. The competition for both visitors and residents is hard in the global, the national and also the regional perspective. Smaller municipalities needs to retain a critical mass of population to remain vital, local economies.
With globalisation companies in municipalities like Kinda compete on the world market. For example, there is a local company that we have worked with in the Framtidsföretag project that we wrote about last year, Absorbest. They have a unique range of products that offer efficient, improved hygiene and infection control in the operation room and effective management of wound, and they sell them internationally.
With the internet and global supply chains it is possible for companies like Absorbest to be located in smaller municipalities where they can more easily retain competent staff and develop unique, niched innovations for the world market. This means that for municipalities like Kinda, it is important to make clear what unique assets there are in the place and which target groups of investors and residents they are looking to attract, to further strengthen the local economy.
All places have three main target markets. Visitors, residents and investors, and within each of these there are two sub markets. Visitors can be tourists or business visitors, residents are the current ones and the new ones the place wish to attract and investors can be domestic or international, as illustrated below.
For the people in a municipality, it is important to be clear on what they communicate to these target markets, to make sure the message is consistent and similar in all forms of communication. This means the home page of the municipality, the tourist office brochures and internet page, the communication from local businesses as well as what local people say when they travel.
Therefore people from all sectors in the municipality need to collaborate and agree on the sweet spot of the place. With sweet spot I mean the intersection of assets and capabilities of the place that is attractive for the chosen target markets, taking competing places offerings into account, as illustrated below.
This may sound easy, but in fact it is a long and laborious process to agree on this. It is really about the vision of the future of the place that can be agreed in dialogue between the municipal government, local businesses, local education institutions and civil society. Such dialogue is time consuming and difficult to drive to achieve consensus, but it is necessary for the success of a place, in todays hyper competitive world where many places compete with each other in the region (Östergötland has 13 large and small municipalities), in the country (Sweden has 290 municipalities) and internationally (Europe has 120,000 local and regional authorities).
The sweet spot each place decides upon, to achieve success, must be attractive and visible enough toward the market markets to make sense, and thereby make the place attractive. When one get this right, it is a recipe for prosperity and economic growth, just like a business company finding their sweet spot in a range of products that are innovative and with limited competition, as Absorbest in Kinda have done with their product range.
I was surprised to hear that the technical college in Kinda has a regular exchange with educational institutions in China and that students each year go on study trips there. This is very promising, for links between education institutions are often soon followed by business linkages. Also the representative from a local refuge centre made an interesting statement, when he mentioned that the refuges from foreign countries are very interested in developing business activities.
Below is a video about Kinda, produced by the municipality with the purpose to introduce Kinda to visitors, potential residents and investors.