Digitalization of an industrial community – Surahammar

One revolution leads to another. Sometimes, this transformation can destroy small municipalities that are addicted to the once revolutionary technology. Many choose to move to the bigger cities in order to find new challenges, thus a few jobs remain in the traces of today’s digitalization. Today, it is a way too big difference in digital development in metropolitan areas versus in the small municipalities. Sweden is one of the leading countries in terms of digital transformation, where the Swedish business community has been fast to adapt its operations. Early on, companies created digital solutions that were beneficial for both the company and the customer. Measures in the municipalities of the country have, however, resulted in worrying statistics, where the differences between the large and small municipalities have proved to be significant. While the conditions for the different municipalities differ, the need to streamline their activities is a common denominator.

The challenge of digital transformation

Digitalization in smaller municipalities is beneficial for both businesses and the inhabitants, and can counteract the aggressive urbanization we see today. One of the more important aspects of digitalization is the potential for better service, and it creates unique opportunities. With the promotion of digitalization, companies can work as good despite their locations. Furthermore, it is right to assume that the relevance of digitalization will increase in the upcoming years, given that more and more businesses are switching to digital communication. One can therefore expect it to be almost impossible to run an operation in a place where digitalization has stopped.

Businesses, the cultural life and the public sector are currently in what is probably the greatest social change of our time. Sweden’s rural areas has the potential of being at the forefront of digitalization. But many of the municipalities have been lagging behind despite big investments and high ambitions. It is naive to believe that the great industries will be resurrected. How can the municipalities in rural areas become more attractive? New thinking is required. Digitalization creates opportunities for developing businesses as the whole world as a marketplace. We live in a globalized world, and we need the attitude to be adapted to the reality and the outside world.

Small business “Silicon Valley”?

Ramnäs is just one example of the municipalities that have suffered from the transformation in recent decades. The municipality was once one of Sweden’s largest industrial centers, and today there is not much left of it. How to change Ramnäs into a future digital city? It is important to start from scratch, to develop what already exists. Priority should be given to the small businesses already in the municipality and the building of their digital presence. Four out of five jobs are created in small businesses. In order for such municipalities to survive, both leaders, inhabitants and entrepreneurs must understand the importance of being at the forefront of digitalization.

Three years ago, SEEBA supported a project in Ramnäs and Surahammar. The goal was to actively work towards placing the small businesses on the digital map, making them more competitive. The companies that chose to participate in the project have changed their own view and learned how to create more jobs and better business. The existing companies in the municipalities have continuously managed to increase their sales. This has also shown that the previously mentioned hypothesis is correct; Digitalization can counter urbanization. As digital technology enables companies to perform their work regardless of location, interest in rural areas has increased. It’s not about making big and expensive investments, it’s about changing the business model by taking small steps so that it becomes a better match with today’s globalized world. – A sucess story

A life with good balance between work and privacy is very attractive, enjoying the calmness of the countryside while being close to the big cities. One example is Evy and Tom and their success story with their company Soft Bildelar. In Stockholm, the company was run as a hobby besides regular work. In 2014 they decided to invest in a full-time concept and moved to Ramnäs where they started this journey. The plan was sales via the web, but with time they decided to open a smaller store. The success was huge, and a year later they were in need of larger premises. Soft Bildelar has doubled its sales every year since they moved to the small municipality of Surahammar.

Digitalization enables you to perform the same work from a different location, where startup and running costs are usually much lower compared with the big cities. As the costs are generally lower in smaller municipalities, opportunities for better quality of life and more profitable business are greater. With the right mindset, good leadership and an attractive business environment, the countryside can quickly get a revanche. There are many opportunities, now it is up to the rural municipalities to dare to succeed, dare to be the best.