How to attract and retain entrepreneurs in the countryside? What role can a municipality or region play?
Eva Jilkén is the project manager for Vi Landsbyggare, at the non-profit organisation Leader Höga Kusten.
For the past two years, Leader Höga Kusten in Sweden has successfully been running a project called Vi Landsbyggare. This translates roughly as “We, the builders of the land”. The Landsbyggare project aims to change attitudes and challenge perceptions about the countryside. They aim to give a more accurate account of the business opportunities and create a more positive image of rural communities.
The countryside of the 21st century is entrepreneurial and full opportunities.
The project Vi Landsbyggare demonstrates that a less stressful way of life has also been beneficial for the entrepreneurs’ careers. By helping people to make use of these opportunities, the Vi Landsbyggare team is able to market the region as a career destination as well as a place that offers a high life quality.
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The project Vi Landsbyggare supports entrepreneurship, has built a network and helps driven entrepreneurs to settle in and grow their business in the region. Every year, a competition of the Year’s Landsbyggare is organised, celebrating entrepreneurism and bringing people together. The project has launched a big social media campaign that portraits different entrepreneurs and portraits the life of farmers, restaurateurs, smaller industries to designers, athletes and influencers, of all ages and walks of life. Some are local, some have moved to the region from bigger cities, in search of a better life.
A working concept
By late 2019, they had reached over a half a million people. Several entrepreneurs have moved to the rural areas of the Swedish High Coast (Höga Kusten) and started businesses as a result of the campaign.
The project at High Coast is run by a team at Leader Höga Kusten, backed by four municipalities Härnösand, Kramfors, Sollefteå and Örnsköldsvik, all some 500 km north of Stockholm. Having secured EU funding, they are now onto something new and innovative in the way people are being attracted to the countryside. This is something small towns and regions in the sparsely populated Nordic countries and in the rest of Europe are aching to learn: how to sustain life in rural areas in the century of urbanisation.
Landsbyggare has also become a national concept. 10 other organisations in Sweden want their Leader Offices (as in the EU’s LEADER programme) to copy the concept, as this would increase their efforts of making their region more attractive places. If they take responsibility and create a positive change, a positive perception of the countryside would attract more people to their region.
The project is considered a success and has attracted a lot of positive media attention in Sweden, ending up as a finalist at the annual Placebrander awards and abroad, with project leaders taking the stage at events from Sweden to Brussels, all who wish to learn how to reinvigorate life at the country side.
Eva will talk about how can small places attract entrepreneurs to the countryside and how can others do it, too.