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Finland: Cool centre for future IT brainpower?

According to a fresh report, foreign-owned data centres could bring Finland tens of thousands of jobs and billions of euros in economic impact.

Ihmisiä tyhjässä tehdashallissa.
The former Summa paper mill in Hamina is being transformed into a Google data centre. Image: Jani Aarnio / Yle

Foreign companies’ server farms in Finland could generate as many as 50,000 person-years of work and economic benefits worth some 11 billion euros within the next decade – at least according to a report published on Monday by the Finnish division of the Nordic consultancy Oxford Research (OR).

The study notes that as much as 110 billion euros is being invested in data centres worldwide each year. It cites predictions that 60 major new data centres will be set up in Europe by the year 2020. Finland has strong attributes for attracting a share of these centres, the group says, including its energy system, availability of developable land and facilities, network connections, safe environment and cool climate. The latter is a big plus as data centres generate a lot of heat, so are expensive to keep cool in warmer countries. The consultants also believe that Finland’s legislation governing such facilities could give it a competitive edge.

OR calculates that server centres being established by Google, Microsoft and Russia’s Yandex have a combined value of some 1.3 billion euros.

Empty paper mills become busy IT centres

The firm also notes that such centres could play a key role in the national economy as they are typically sited in areas that have undergone economic upheaval – for instance, taking over shuttered paper mills. One that has done so is the Google brain centre in Hamina, south-east Finland. It has been under construction at the former Stora Enso Summa factory since 2009, employing more than 2,000 people in the process. Besides empty industrial buildings, such areas often have a large supply of well-educated jobseekers.

The report was submitted to Prime Minister Alexander Stubb and Minister for European Affairs and Foreign Trade Lenita Toivakka on Monday. So what does it urge them to do?

Among other moves, OR recommends “more effective use of Finland's national strengths, mobilising education and innovation system to build an ecosystem to support the data centres, and assessing the risks of legislative changes on national and EU level from the perspective of investments”.

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