Mike Hedges AM considers lessons in economic prosperity from Aarhus for Swansea
The second city, in population, in Denmark is Aarhus and the second city in Wales is Swansea. Whilst Swansea is part of the West Wales and Valleys and the Swansea metropolitan area has according to Eurostat a GDP per capita of 75% of the European average, Aarhus has 107% of the European average so what can Swansea learn from Aarhus and its economy.
Greater Aarhus is a major player in the in the global wind energy market. It is home to some of the world’s biggest manufacturers of wind turbines and constitutes the world’s most advanced knowledge center regarding wind turbines. It has suppliers and subcontractors that cover the entire supply chain and the sector benefits from a solid political backing of wind energy on local, regional and national level. The wind business cluster here has a history of cooperation between manufacturers, suppliers, scientific communities and public authorities
The equivalent for Swansea is the Tidal lagoon where Swansea being the first tidal lagoon can become the world’s biggest manufacturers of tidal turbines but it needs cooperation between manufacturers, suppliers, scientific communities and public authorities just as Aarhus has achieved with wind turbines.
Aarhus University a university founded in 1928 and is Denmark’s largest, with a total of 44,500 students as of January 2013. In ranking lists of the world’s best universities, Aarhus University is placed in the top 100
Swansea University is a research-led university that has been in existence since1920 with a total of 17,445 in 2015/16. Swansea University ranks between 300 and 350 in the World ranking. So the challenge is to grow the university both in student numbers and in world ranking. Progress on both has been made in recent years with the bay campus being built but there is still an opportunity for growth in numbers and improvement in its world ranking.
The largest research park in Aarhus is INCUBA Science Park, focused on IT and biomedical research. The organization is owned partly by Aarhus University and partly by private investors and aims to foster close relationships between public institutions and startup companies. IT and biomedical research are two of the current growth industries across the World.
These are areas that the Swansea City region is looking to develop as part of the City region firstly with the programme of Life Science and Well-being. The aim is to place the region at the forefront of life science innovation and to be recognised as a destination of choice for global investment and enterprise in the field of life sciences and well-being
Secondly ICT plans include Swansea city and waterfront digital district, centre of next generation digital services and technology centre, Digital infrastructure creative digital cluster and factory of the future. The above is intended to bring in almost £100 million of private investment into the city region. I believe that the City Deal is the right innovative proposal for our region and it will help diversify the economy of our region by supporting growth in innovative industries including ICT.
As both Aarhus and Cambridge with its Silicon Fen was created in 1970s when a Science Park was formed by Trinity and other Cambridge colleges has shown is that a research park needs to be led by the University.
There is the opportunity to produce a research park in the Swansea Bay City region but it will need the full support of the University as well as local and Welsh Government.
In Aarhus is the headquarters of Arla Foods the largest producer of dairy products in Scandinavia and the fourth largest dairy company in the world with respect to milk volume, seventh with respect to turnover. Arla Foods has three major brands: Arla, Lurpak and Castello cheeses that are sold worldwide.
Whilst there is a successful food park in Cross Hands within the Swansea City region that adds value to the ‘Garden of Wales’ and for those that buy its produce. It is well placed with high quality suppliers based nearby thus reducing food miles for production. An area of growth must be to process more of the food locally and to get more of the economic benefit of processing the food as well of the benefit of producing it.
Whilst no two cities are the same especially when they are in different countries and Aarhus success rests on more than the above, it gives an indication of the direction of travel to have an economically successful city. Whilst the Council with the City deal is moving Swansea in the right direction, economic success for the area cannot be created by the Council alone. There is a need for the Universities, the Welsh Government, the Westminster Government and the private sector to work together to grow the economy.