Creating a hub for local businesses in Vinje, Norway
Vinje is a truly rural community, characterised by a small and dispersed population and small businesses. To sustain our community, we are dependent on a healthy business life. The municipal authorities therefore have a strong interest in supporting local business and facilitating business development. Local businesses, on their side, encourage the authorities to take on a central role in business development to help overcome key challenges. The aim of the Vinje and USN pilot is to shape this role.
One of the general challenges emphasised by businesses in Vinje is a limited access to key resources for development, including skilled labour, competencies and networking opportunities. This challenge is accentuated by global trends, such as the rapid digitalisation of our society. The insights phase of the pilot, consisting of a workshop and in-depth interviews with businesses, helped us confirm and elaborate on this general challenge. Among the more specific challenges/needs identified, we decided to focus on communication and networking, as well as access to training and counselling.
Problem solving process
The municipal authorities in Vinje have a long tradition in prioritising business support activities, encouraged by local businesses themselves. The original aim of the pilot was to tackle key challenges by strengthening this municipal support role, and the pilot has confirmed the validity of this strategy. In the ideation phase of the project, the pilot team connected with local, regional, national and European partners and resources to find ways to meet the business needs within the two focus areas. The international and multi-actor character of the COM³ project ensured diverse and highly valuable input to our local pilot.
First of all, we wanted the pilot to result in an improved strategic orientation of our work with business support. The pilot will therefore produce new modules in Vinje’s business support strategy and plan, corresponding to the two focus areas. Secondly, we wanted to use the pilot to develop and test a set of new and improved services that may meet the needs within the two focus areas.
In terms of better communication and networking, we have the following plans: (1) We will start to think of the municipal business support department as an “editorial office” and strengthen our work with information directed at businesses, including a dedicated newsletter. (2) We will initiate and support new meeting arenas, including dialogue meetings with the head of business and an annual social/cultural event. (3) We will consider a new approach to individual business support, including a dedicated contact person and development plan for each business. (4) In cooperation with the county authorities, we will take part in a project to build a knowledge base on local business life, based on publicly available data and possibly on new survey data.
In terms of access to training and counselling, we have the following plans: (1) We will start to think of the municipal business support department as a broker between local businesses and existing providers of competency services. More specifically, this means mapping local needs and existing services, and trying to match the two. (2) We will organise/develop tailored training where we see a local need for this. (3) We will consider a new approach to individual business support, including a dedicated contact person and development plan for each business (same as for the other focus area). (4) Together with a regional provider of a learning management system (LMS), we will run a small pilot project testing whether a shared LMS for small companies is viable (LMS are more common in large enterprises).
Expected results and outcomes
So far, we have managed to integrate the COM³ pilot in the ongoing business support strategy process. This should ensure a lasting impact on the municipality’s strategic orientation when it comes to business support. We also expect to initiate and test a set of new services to meet the identified needs. We hope that at least some of these services will prove successful and sustainable, leading to better communication, stronger networks and more competent businesses.