Frozen out
Finland is a wilderness for UK firms – and not just because of its sub-arctic landscape. It is the fifth largest country in Europe but, despite its size, it has a population of only 5.2 million people – smaller than London.

The country’s small population, coupled with its position at the northern periphery of the EU, explains why there is very little UK involvement in the country’s £11.25bn construction industry. UK firms are limited to occasional consultancy work on infrastructure and power-generation projects and the supply of some construction materials.

Construction, however, is a significant part of the country’s economy, with building investments accounting for about 10% of Finland’s GNP. And the industry employs 145,000 people, according to the Confederation of Finnish Construction Industries. Housing is the biggest sector, with 32,000 residential units started in 2001 of which 11,000 were state-subsidised. After a boom in the late 1990s, however, the industry is now in recession, with building activity down 3.3% in the second quarter of 2001 compared with the first.

Determined to ride out the recession, Finland’s construction industry has teamed up with real estate developers under Vision 2010, a trade group formed to identify construction trends up to 2010 to help firms develop expansion plans for the future. And in another initiative, a consortium of key construction companies has set up a trading community to enable electronic trade and information sharing to help cut costs and increase collaboration in the industry.

The industry is dominated by a number of major players that work not only in Finland but in Russia and other countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Hungary and Romania. Skanska’s Finnish arm, Skanska Oy, is the biggest player of all. Other major companies include NCC Oy and YIT Corporation – a service company that builds, maintains and operates residential, industrial and infrastructure projects – and Honkarakenne Oy, the world’s leading maker of log homes.