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From outskirt to growth centre

Lolland-Falster is in the middle of a paradigm shift from its provincial past to one of Denmark’s foremost areas of growth - but the two islands aren’t losing their roots. Sarah Redohl reports on Business Lolland-Falster’s assistance in the region’s efforts.

Pictures: Business Lolland-Falster

Among the fields of sugar beets, rapeseed, and wheat on the islands of Lolland and Falster, something else is growing. For the better part of a decade, the Lolland-Falster region has been positioning itself as one of Denmark’s major areas of economic growth.

“Lolland-Falster has hidden potential in light of the large infrastructure projects that are happening in the area,” Mikkel Wesselhoff, CEO of Business Lolland-Falster (BLF), said.

When the Femern tunnel is complete in 2029, the 18-kilometre tunnel beneath the Baltic Sea will connect Scandinavia and Germany, placing Lolland-Falster in the middle of a bustling trade route.

“Lolland-Falster has hidden potential in light of the large infrastructure projects that are happening in the area.” - Mikkel Wesselhoff, CEO of Business Lolland-Falster

BLF, a nonprofit organisation supporting business and job development in the Lolland-Falster region, is striving to maintain the region’s economic development through the completion of the tunnel and beyond.

“Our mission is to contribute to the growth of businesses and create jobs,” Wesselhoff said. “We do this by supporting businesses in their development and promoting our region, with the goal of attracting investors to help our businesses scale.”

BLF offers free business consultancy services, start-up assistance, training, and workshops, as well as additional in-depth services for its members. “We are very accessible to all businesses in the region,” said BLF Business Development Manager Christiane Paaske-Sørensen. “We strive to be easy to work with and minimise red tape.”

Originally from California, Paaske-Sørensen settled down in Lolland with her Danish husband. She is passionate about her home in Denmark, and recognises the value her job can bring to the region.

“There are many old families who have been cultivating these lands for generations,” she said, her husband among them. Although the region will remain an agricultural hub and has plans to expand its footprint in agrifood production, it’s also attracting new industries. And BLF is leading the charge.

Green fields, blue food

“We believe that future investments are based on sustainable principles and business areas,” Wesselhoff said. “Therefore, BLF and the municipalities work on a common vision, balancing business with nature.”

For example, BLF has played a role in the region’s shift from producing raw food products to value-added products (selling an apple versus selling apple sauce). They’ve also been experimenting with crops new to the region that are becoming more prevalent in modern diets, such as quinoa.

“We’re learning how we can make more with the land we have and improve our crop diversity,” Paaske-Sørensen said. “The tunnel will give those efforts a boost, but that was already happening without the tunnel. We want to be even more of a food centre than we already are.”

The region is also striving toward greater sustainability, within and beyond its agricultural legacy. BLF has been engaged in a project, Green Gas Lolland-Falster, to build a new pipeline between South Zealand, Falster, and Lolland, for the transport of biogas. Biogas is a renewable fuel produced from organic matter, such as food scraps and animal waste - two items agricultural regions like Lolland-Falster have in spades.

“With our agricultural production, we have a lot of waste,” Paaske-Sørensen said. “Although much of it is already being reused in other ways, this just expands what we can do to minimise waste.”

According to Wesselhoff, BLF’s role is to facilitate, service, and promote such initiatives. “We are primarily the neutral point of contact between stakeholders,” he said. “We’re usually at the forefront in the development of these initiatives.”

For example, a recent joint initiative between the municipalities and the European Union to identify aquatic opportunities. The initiative aims to identify ways to make better, more sustainable use of the water surrounding both islands.

Already, the initiative has identified several invasive fish species that can be used as a food ingredient or livestock feed while bringing the native ecosystem back into balance.

“It’s a way we can turn an unwanted resource into an asset,” Paaske-Sørensen said. “It’s called blue food production.” Blue food, defined as all edible aquatic organisms from fish to algae, is expected to play a major role in sustainably producing food for the world’s growing population.

Green energy, good jobs

Business Lolland-Falster has also been engaged in the region’s growing green energy sector. Lolland-Falster is home to several offshore and inland wind farms, as well as solar farms. “This region has the highest percentage of sunny days in a year, compared to the rest of Denmark,” Paaske-Sørensen said, adding that Lolland-Falster currently produces seven times more electricity than it consumes.

“For years, we have been working on green initiatives, and our area has become an epicentre for these activities,” Wesselhoff said. “Green growth is critical in its potential to create jobs as well as enhance existing business clusters and ecosystems.”

In order to staff the increasing number of jobs coming to the region, BLF and its partners are striving to offer educational and training opportunities to the region’s residents.

“Once they reach the point that they want a family, a lot of people who left choose to come back here.” - Christiane Paaske-Sørensen, Business Development Manager at business Lolland-Falster

“We do have a need for qualified workers down here, but we are striving to utilise the people who already live here so they can provide that missing resource for us,” Paaske-Sørensen said. “Having more job opportunities is also key to keeping young people from leaving to grow their careers elsewhere.”

She said it’s fairly common for people growing up in the region to leave Lolland-Falster to pursue higher education. Many tend to launch their careers elsewhere. “Once they reach the point that they want a family, a lot of people who left choose to come back here,” she said.

Wesselhoff said interest in moving to the region has also grown during the Covid-19 pandemic, especially as more people are able to work remotely. “They no longer have to be in the big cities in order to find the most fulfilling or well-paid jobs,” he said. “They choose places like Lolland-Falster because of its relatively short distance to greater Copenhagen, but with access to nature, better work-life balance, and lower cost of living.”

Global world, rural roots

Even before the increase in initiatives and investments into Lolland-Falster, the region has a history of creating conditions for its success. “We’re a small community with a lot of family businesses who are trying to make things happen and create new jobs here,” Paaske-Sørensen said.

BLF strives to make starting a business easy within the region.

“We have dedicated start-up efforts that provide advice and guidance in all phases - from business idea development to scaling and investment,” Wesselhoff said. BLF also has an incubator called the Startup Lab in Nykøbing Falster.

“I think we’ve done a very good job establishing the ecosystem to start new businesses here,” Paaske-Sørensen said. She believes these services could be useful to internationals in the region, particularly among accompanying spouses. “If they can’t find a job, they can make their own.”

However, she acknowledges how intimating starting one’s own business is, especially in a country and language with which you may be less familiar. “Being able to have someone to help you with that is integral,” Paaske-Sørensen said, adding that BLF is happy to provide assistance in English.

“This region is going to become increasingly international in the next 10 years,” she said. Having lived in Denmark for 20 years, Paaske-Sørensen has seen firsthand how an increasing number of internationals coming into Denmark has shifted mindsets and brought new ideas to the table. “I think having more internationals here opens our region up to the world.”

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