Gothenburg once boasted the world’s largest shipyards, but faced with Japanese and Korean competition, the oil crisis and a world economic downturn, the city was brought to its knees in the 1980s, with 5 kms of empty dockland and 20 thousand unemployed people.
But though shipbuilding was down, Gothenburg was not out.
The City Council bought the empty shipyards for one Swedish krona – that’s 2 pence – financed new house-building, new secondary schools and linked up with Chalmers University to set up Lindholmen Science Park. It attracted the Swedish mobile phone maker, Ericsson who created a cluster of ten thousand people in other IT companies round its new HQ. This inter-dependency helped the sector survive the dot.com crash.
The biggest advance though, followed the biggest setback, when Sweden’s innovation agency, rejected a bid for research funding. Undaunted, the Science Park collaborators (council and business) went ahead without state funds, seconding thirty people for one year to fine tune their plans.
Now, 375 companies operate on dockland that wasn’t worth tuppence thirty years ago, Gothenburg has become Sweden’s R&D capital and more people are employed today in tech jobs than ever worked in the shipyards. Local car-maker Volvo plans to go fully electric by 2030 and 100 billion Euros is being invested to connect both banks of the river. As the city shapes up to celebrate its 400th anniversary this year and recall the part played by Scots in its phenomenal success, a sense of excitement is almost palpable.
Nordic Horizons Director Lesley Riddoch visited the city in May 2023 to find out how Gothenburg turned itself around.
Thanks to Eva Lehman from Goteborg.com, Christian Borg & Jonas Eriksson of Business Region Gothenburg, Hotel Eggers manager Jessica Vialleton, Jonsered Museum chair, Hjordis Fohrman and Chris Smith for editing.