Martin Hirvoja: Estonia to attract foreign talents

Plans are in place to actively promote Estonia abroad as a great place to live and work.

At the end of last year, as a member of the management board of Enterprise Estonia – the agency in Estonia responsible for country branding, attracting foreign investment and tourists as well as supporting Estonian exports – I initiated, together with the Estonian Service Industry Association, a completely new and exciting programme for Estonia under the code name TalentHub Estonia with the purpose of putting together an action plan to actively promote Estonia abroad as a great place to live and work.

Why did we do it? Speaking regularly with potential foreign investors as well as with companies already operating in Estonia, they often ask as the first thing whether there are enough specialists available locally to create or expand their business here. Furthermore, to promote economical growth in Estonia and reduce unemployment in Europe, we are inviting educated people to move and build their career in Estonia. It is a win-win situation. Estonia has been very successful in attracting foreign investment and tourists, as well as marketing our exporters abroad, but systematic work in inviting people from abroad to come and stay here longer needs to be started if we want to reach the next level of economic success. Many successful developed countries have been doing this for years, for example, New Zealand, Denmark or the US.

Estonia is not exactly no longer a land of cheap labour but rather in the middle section. For the past two decades, Estonia has been a cost-efficient place to produce high-quality products as a subcontractor for Western European companies. This model was necessary to build up the Estonian economy after the Soviet occupation. However, a time for change has arrived, as this model is no longer fulfilling the burning will to develop and reach higher wages than roughly EUR1,000 as average.

The whole paradigm and focus of attracting foreign investment has changed as well – no longer do we measure it just in millions of euros of investment into concrete or machinery, but increasingly in how many new workplaces of at least double the average salary will be created. Investments brought to Estonia today are the ones that will not move out of here even if the average wage level reaches far above EUR1,500-2,000.


We already saw over 10 years ago how a large part of the standard mass production textile manufacturing moved to Asia. In a couple of years the same will happen with some of the electronic industries – specifically those who have stagnated on just the advantage of lower labour costs. The good news is that most electronic industries have already moved up in the ladder – for example Ericsson and ABB have recruited people from abroad with complex skills that add higher value. Some of the industry is also moving back from Asia, especially those that produce tailor-made products in smaller quantities and logistically need to be closer to their market.

According to a research, “Estonia – the business paradise”, performed by the Technopolis group, 64% of the globally mobile work force choose their place of work primarily by the city or the country that has caught their interest. However, which company they will choose comes secondary to the location. Tallinn, Estonia will have to put itself on the map as a place that is internationally attractive to live and work in. It has the potential to be on an equal or even a higher level in comparison with Helsinki or Hamburg. Estonia has excellent e-government solutions that save your time (digital signatures, five-minute electronic tax declarations, creating a company online in just 20 minutes, to name just a few examples), a strong rule of law, low corruption and strong transparency, and in addition creative people who at the same time have a protestant cultural background which honours hard work and keeping their word form a unique mix of strengths.

If you add to that still a very competitive cost base – one could easily say that one would live better in Tallinn with a monthly salary of EUR3,000 than with EUR6,000 in Helsinki – that would make an irresistible package already discovered by some. The new trend is bringing product development units to Estonia – the best recent examples are the logistics giants Kuehne+Nagel and Navionics who have set up their IT development centres here. They are new welcome members to the family already consisting of Skype and TransferWise product development teams. The European Union IT Agency and the NATO Cyber Security Center of Excellence have also set up their headquarters here. Tallinn now has already two highly valued international schools to take care of the children of the people who move here.

These advantages are not widely known and this knowledge needs to be communicated. The registered website www.workinestonia.com will serve as a tool for marketing as well as a practical wizard to get any government formalities done in English, find a place to live and a school for the kids. It will also be one of the recruitment channels for the companies and a platform for so-called after care already provided to investors.

Within TalentHub Estonia we, of course, do not want to attract just specialists to relocate to Estonia, but invite also entrepreneurs – including the ones who would found their startup here – and give them a clear picture of which public financial and other support mechanisms are in place for them. This is not starting an out-of-the-blue construction site as Estonia already has a number of internationally known startups, so adding additional players only strengthens everyone’s opportunities.

To attract specialists and entrepreneurs to Estonia means those people will not come to “take away jobs” from the locals but create new, interesting and better-paying jobs also for the local people. In order to create five new interesting workplaces for Estonians, the sixth colleague perhaps needs to be invited from abroad. In the first stage the opportunities within the European Union free movement of labour should be utilised – for example, Spain, Portugal, but paradoxically also Finland, a country where we currently export our workforce in biggest numbers. The recent stage 1 liberalisation of Estonian residence regulations for people outside the EU free movement of labour gives ground to gradually go global with the approach.

The least of worries should be the lack of space as Estonia has a tremendous territory compared with its population. A country with the territory of Netherlands and 1.3 million people will preserve its privacy, clean air and forests even if we make its capital Tallinn an internationally known place to live.

Contrary to the popular grief about our climate, let’s instead acknowledge that in the tropical latitudes, people and companies spend fortunes to have their cars, offices and homes air conditioned to the temperature we here enjoy for free!


If you’d like to set down your longer vision for Estonia in an opinion article, please let us know: info@estonianworld.com; otherwise please leave your comment below.

Cover photo and video: Tomomi Hayashi, a Japanese architect, has chosen Estonia as his place to work and live.

The opinions in this article are those of the author.

Target: Estonia – Britain’s nuclear plan for Tallinn, Tartu and Viljandi

While Estonia was an unwilling member of the Soviet Union, from a military perspective it was a legitimate target in the event of a Soviet nuclear first-strike attack on the UK or its NATO allies.

I will never forget the first time I saw a Vulcan bomber take-off. Standing next to the runway at RAF Boscombe Down (as it then was), wearing ear protectors far too large for my small ears, I watched its majestic and graceful frame ascend into the sky with a dexterity not normally seen in heavy bombers. I was awestruck. Despite the Vulcan having already retired six years before, it was (and still is) chilling to think of the destruction these aircraft might have unleashed on the world had the chess-like brinkmanship of the Cold War played out differently.

Vulcan bombers

During the 1960ies, the Vulcan bomber formed the backbone of the British nuclear fleet and, at any given moment, a certain number were at a state of permanent readiness. In times of heightened tension, they could be airborne within two minutes – the shortest warning given of a Soviet nuclear attack was estimated to be three and a half minutes. Once airborne, they would have flown at over 40,000 feet over the North Sea to southern Norway until they reached the “positive release line”, beyond which they would not fly unless a given a positive command to do so.

Once this invisible line was crossed, the bombers would fly around the coast of neutral Sweden until they were over the island of Gotland where they would split up and head for their individual targets in the Soviet Union. In the first set of strikes, three bombers would have been dispatched to attack Tallinn, Tartu and Viljandi.

While Estonia was an unwilling member of the Soviet Union, from a military perspective it was a legitimate target in the event of a Soviet nuclear first-strike attack on the UK or its NATO allies. Extensively militarised and part of the Baltic Military District, it was home to at least six air interception squadrons, heavy bombers and units of the Strategic Rocket Forces.

Click to enlarge

The British Vulcans were armed with Blue Steel stand-off missiles (“stand-off” meaning they could be deployed at a safe distance for the Vulcan to be able to escape the resultant explosion) which had an explosive yield of approximately 1.1 megatons. In comparison, “Little Boy”, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, had an explosive yield of just 0.16 megatons.

350,000 people would have been killed

There is no doubt that the effects of these strikes on Estonia would have been devastating. Approximately 350,000 people would have been killed just from the explosion itself. If you factor in the human cost of nuclear fallout for the surviving population (had there been one), this figure can be safely doubled. Fallout from the bomb dropped on Tallinn would also have reached Helsinki and Southern Finland.

Simultaneously, nuclear weapons would have been dropped on strategic targets in Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus and, of course, Russia. The scale of devastation would have been catastrophic.

So next time you’re are on a plane, enjoying the sights of Estonia and the Baltic Sea from the air, remember this article and try to imagine the view with the terrifying overlay of nuclear fallout and mushroom clouds.

A note on the illustration

In creating the illustration, I have made certain assumptions. Firstly, that the Vulcans that were to target Estonia were equipped with Blue Steel “air-burst” nuclear stand-off weapons – this is the most likely scenario. Air-burst nuclear weapons detonate in the air over their target and the amount of fallout is reduced. Secondly, the number of casualties from a nuclear blast is difficult to calculate.

The figures here should be regarded as reasonable estimates, but necessary assumptions were made, especially with regard to the daytime populations of Tallinn, Tartu and Viljandi. Any mis-calculation is likely to result in an under-estimation of the human tragedy involved. It is also important to note that neither the short nor long-term effects on health from nuclear fallout have been taken into consideration. Fallout is shown on the map by the opaque clouds, shaded according to the relevant nuclear target.


Cover: A Vulcan B.2 of the Royal Air Force.

Tallinn competes for the title of the most intelligent community in the world

Back in January we were the first Estonian media channel to report that Tallinn was named as one of the seven most intelligent city communities in the world by the New York-based Intelligent Community Forum. June 07 is the day to find out whether it has become the most intelligent one.

Tallinners – and surely most of Estonians for that matter – have a reason to hold their breath when the world’s 2013 Intelligent Community of the Year award will be announced in New York on June 07.


The Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) studies and promotes the best practices of the world’s intelligent communities as they adapt to the demands and seize the opportunities presented by information and communications technology. It is a non-profit organisation which consists of 100’s of cities and regions that have been designated as Intelligent Communities by ICF; and which participates in an ongoing global dialogue to strengthen local economies and help communities build prosperous economies, solve social problems and enrich local cultures.

The winner will be chosen by a global panel of academic leaders and private sector representatives, following a three-day summit – this year themed “Innovation and Jobs” and attended by Mike Lazaridis, the founder of RIM, the company that produces BlackBerry smartphones.

We caught up with John Jung, one of the co-founders of ICF, and we set up a conversation via Skype – the device which has played its own role for getting Tallinn on the list.

Jung, a Canada-based urban planner and architect, visited Tallinn in early April as part of the selection process. “To have been selected among the top seven from 100’s of applications is already a superb achievement, regardless of what happens,” he says to satisfy my curiosity about Tallinn’s chances to win. “But I can tell you this – I liked what I saw. Tallinn has got resilience, lots of drive and is clearly an innovative centre globally.”

The process started in October last year, when 119 out of about 400 ICF member cities, Tallinn among them, submitted their applications. “From there on, an army of consultants and analysts conduct a robust analysis to check whether the provided data is correct, on paper as well as on the spot. Numbers on a datasheet are one thing, but a real passion on the another,” Jung explains. Out of 119, 21 were selected out first, followed by final top 7 in January.

ICF has set five main criteria under which they look at the intelligent cities:

– Infrastructure
– Knowledge workforce, or development and retention of talent
– Innovation and creativity
– Digital inclusion
– Advocacy and marketing

The purpose of John Jung’s visit to Tallinn was to evaluate how well these requirements have been met by the community in the ICF context. “As for the infrastructure, we see the intelligent cities as part of what we call “broadband economy” – it is not our task or objective to count potholes,” he responds to my intriguing question about the quality of roads in Tallinn. “EstWin (EstWin is a collaborative project undertaken to make 100 Mbit/s wideband internet accessible to every citizen of Estonia by 2015 – Editor) is executing a great expansion into next generation of broadband, including rural areas outside Tallinn, a great advantage for Estonia. There is a great connectivity everywhere, WiFi – a lot of it for free. And now the city also provides transport for free. I was floored for that – I didn’t even know this!”

According to Jung, Tallinn is doing very well in education and innovation. “I visited Tehnopol,  IT-college, Tallinn University of Technology, ICT demo centre, Garage48 tech start-up hub, NATO Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence. I was looking how the educational solutions among the community have been applied and how widely. I can conclude that Tallinn is an early adaptor. Making transactions over the smartphones is all part of that, for example,” he explains. “There’s also plenty of positive vibe around, Garage48 being a good example. The city is clearly supportive of start-ups.”

John Jung

Jung claims that one of the reasons why Tallinn is recognised as an intelligent community in the first place is because it is digitally inclusive. “For example, Skype’s all about digital inclusion. Anyone can use it – heck, it was for free. More recently, it has been made possible for locals to pay for parking using their smartphones and near field communication (NFC) technology. In other words, Tallinn’s public services are wired and that’s a prime example of digital inclusion,” Jung explains.

Finally, advocacy and marketing.“That is Tallinn’s weakest point so far – but to be fair, most of the cities tend to have the same issue. You need to do more to market and let the world know what’s happening. It will bring more investment in and will also make local people more happy – everyone wants to live in a good place,” Jung advises. “For example, I was impressed by the EstWin project – you should really bang on about it for the outside world!”

Jung, who during his visit also met the Mayor of Tallinn, who is currently preparing for local elections in the fall, evades my questions about politics. “We don’t take into consideration the local politics – I’m not here to do that. I have a passion for cities and I would like to see the world becoming a better place. We have been running the ICF for 12 years and built a good reputation. It is our hobby, as it’s free, but we’ve got a pleasure out of feeling that our ideas have been put into use. But in two days we also talked with as many people as possible. Everyone I spoke to, were very proud of the city and no one complained about local politicians. Every city has got potholes and problems, no city are perfect. Sure, new initiatives could use more financial support, but the passion and collaboration is definitely there,” is Jung resolute.

The Intelligent Community of the Year award has been given to 13 cities so far, closest to Tallinn being Stockholm, Sweden in 2009. This year there’s just another European city among the seven competing for the glory – Oulu from our neighbouring Finland.


Update: Intelligent Community Forum named Taichung City, Taiwan as 2013 Intelligent Community of the Year on June 07, 2013.

Photos: Cover photo by Tallinn

Video: ICF

EU’s IT Agency sets up in Estonia

The European IT Agency has been called the biggest IT challenge for the entire European Union. What does the agency do, how did it come to reside in Estonia and what is the meaning of such an institution for the local entrepreneurial environment?

In December 2012, the European Agency for the operational management of large-scale IT systems in the area of freedom, security and justice – eu-LISA – finally opened its doors. The location? Tallinn, Estonia.

The work of the agency has so far gone publicly unnoticed. But that’s not without a reason. Since the agency has to maintain the security of the entire EU in several fields, the work done behind closed doors is obviously not the type that everyone should be able to have a peek at.

The biggest IT challenge in the EU

The IT Agency has also been called the biggest information technological challenge of the whole European Union. Any country to host the agency should be titled a high-level provider of e-services and IT solutions all over Europe.

We met with Piret Lilleväli, adviser from the Ministry of the Interior, and Ave Poom, policy adviser for eu-LISA, who helped us understand how a small country like Estonia succeeded in bringing such an important agency into its backyard and the impact of hosting the institution.

Estonia vs France – from competition to cooperation

Estonia had been preparing its candidacy for the seat of the Agency for almost two years before the European Commission even presented the draft regulation of the European Parliament and EU Council establishing the agency in 2009.

By that time it had become an established fact that IT systems were extremely important in guaranteeing the internal security of the EU. In line with other risk-reducing measures, like police cooperation and internal migration control, IT solutions are considered the main cornerstones of reducing cross-border risks.

When we talk about the specific systems, there are currently three cornerstones that ensure the internal security of the European Union:

  • Visa Information System (VIS)
  • The European fingerprint database for identifying asylum seekers and irregular border-crossers (Eurodac)
  • Schengen Information System (SIS).

Since December 2012, Estonia is responsible for the operational management of these large-scale databases through eu-LISA.

“We were not interested in bringing just any kind of agency to Estonia. IT is what we, Estonians, all understand and what we appreciate. It is part of our national image. We already host the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence, so our line of thought was that if you have an important IT institution like that, it makes sense to expand further in this specific area — this is what we started to fight for,” Piret Lilleväli tells us. This brings us to the competition between Estonia and France.

Turning the tables

France had managed the first generation SIS system for the member states before the Agency was created, so it automatically became the main candidate for hosting the Agency as all the systems were there. Estonia’s candidacy was based on a particular decision made by the European Council for new EU institutions to be located in new member states combined with the years of work that Estonia has done in building up its reputation as an e-state.

With negotiations over the agency’s location lasting more than a year, a compromise was eventually reached. The headquarters, including its functions and IT development, would be based in Tallinn, Estonia, while the systems and the technical solutions would remain in Strasbourg, France.

Staying ahead of the criminals

Today, the main task of the agency is to take over the old systems from the European Commission and to ensure their functioning. “Our main focus is on SIS becoming operational, or actually SIS II, the second technical version of the system,” Lilleväli explains.

According to her, the postponing of the implementation and the increase in the planned cost has made European countries skeptical about the new system. In addition, some of the countries don’t feel safe about keeping the data in the agency’s large databases. “We are hoping that the agency will help to turn this skeptical attitude around and allow for more common IT solutions to be used for protecting European internal security. At the moment, it seems that the criminals are one step ahead of us,” she adds, half-jokingly.

Creating a network

Through its procurements, an agency of this type has the power to benefit a whole array of companies and organisations. This leads to collaborative enterprises that have a way of creating synergies. “In the case of the IT Agency, it’s quite likely that Estonians will not have the resources and know-how to participate in the procurements on their own, which leads them to join forces with other countries. As a side benefit, the workforce for the projects is likely to be employed from Estonia,” Lilleväli explained.

According to her, many well-known IT companies have already shown interest in bringing their sub units near the agency. There have also been events to introduce the developers and managers of Estonian information systems to the IT director-general Krum Garkov. “With this we are creating a support system for exchanging ideas. I’m certain that future IT success stories will have their origins in these contacts,” Lilleväli expressed.

Growth plans

At the moment, 13 people are working in the Tallinn headquarters of the IT Agency, five of them Estonians. Hiring is being done throughout the EU member states.

“People working in the Strasbourg data center have more background in information technology; people working in Tallinn are from administrative fields. It is mostly because the main tasks of the headquarters in Tallinn are running the organisation, coordinating tasks with other facilities (mainly with EU institutions and facilities responsible for internal security and IT administration in member states), reporting to the European Commission, the Council and the European Parliament according to the Agency’s regulations, and managing internal/external communication as well as finance and other administrative questions,” Ave Poom described.

The goal is to reach 48 employees in the Tallinn office by the end of this year. While the agency is international to the core and may not boast a huge staff compared to international enterprises in the private sector, it is clearly a milestone in gathering top-level IT competence to Estonia.



What kind of information systems does the IT Agency administer?

  • Visa Information System (VIS) – a database that supports the effectuation of united visa politics and facilitates control of borders. When the owner of the visa comes to the external border, the border crossing point has access to VIS to identify the person and to verify the visa’s authenticity. Schengen and Schengen-associated states’ national consulates and official EU border crossing points are joined with the central VIS database to implement VIS. VIS is intended for use in different parts of the world: North Africa (Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunis), the Middle East (Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria) and the area of the Persian Gulf (Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, South Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen).
  • European fingerprint database for identifying asylum seekers and irregular border-crossers (Eurodac) – a system that enables member states to identify asylum seekers and irregular border crossings. Thanks to Eurodac, member states can compare fingerprints and determine whether asylum seekers or foreign state citizens are illegally transiting through another EU member state or have already applied for asylum in another EU member state. Fingerprints are collected from persons over the age of 14. Additionally, sex, country of origin and date of collection are included.
  • Schengen Information System (SIS) – one of the biggest and most important common databases, containing information about fugitives and missing persons, immigrants, stolen vehicles and properties (including firearms, money, identification cards). Currently, 35 states have joined SIS, which means over 32 million entries. At the moment, SIS 1+ is in use. In spring 2013, SIS II will be put to use in all EU member states.


This article was brought to you in collaboration with e-Estonia: http://e-estonia.com/

Photos: picture pictures www.pictures.com

Tallinn named one of top7 intelligent communities in the world

Intelligent Community Forum names the world’s Top7 Intelligent Communities, all with a track record of new jobs and innovative development. Estonian capital is among the Top7.

The Intelligent Community Forum (ICF), based in New York, has named the 2013 Top7 Intelligent Communities of the Year. The Top7 list includes three from North America, two from Taiwan and two from Europe, including Tallinn. “The Top7 communities of 2013 have made innovation – based on information and communications technology – the cornerstone of their economies and fostered economic growth through high-quality employment, while increasing the quality of life of their citizens,” said Lou Zacharilla, ICF co-founder in announcing the list at the Pacific Telecommunications Council’s annual conference (PTC’13) in Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.

According to ICF, these centres demonstrate how to embrace technology in order to gain several advantages including new jobs. A study this month from an arm of the World Bank says the key to creating jobs lies in dealing with four key issues; weak investment and limited financing as well as poor infrastructure, and insufficient skills training. All of these issues are addressed in the strategies of Intelligent Communities.

The ICF 2013 Top7 are:

Tallinn, Estonia
Columbus, USA
Oulu, Finland
Stratford, Canada
Taichung City, Taiwan
Taoyuan County, Taiwan
Toronto, Canada

Economic uncertainty tops the list of concerns for many global communities, The International Labour Organization notes in a January 2013 report that global unemployment was on the rise again in 2012 and forecast it will likely continue to rise in 2013 through to 2017. The Top7 demonstrate what can be accomplished by embracing information and communications technology to power growth, address social challenges and preserve and promote culture.

Among Top7 accomplishments: Tallinn has expanded an industrial park by 50 per cent to 250 companies – making it the largest knowledge-based development in the Baltic region. Columbus created 29,000 new jobs in the last two years, while Oulu created 18,000 new technology jobs in the last five years. Taichung City uses ICT to help farmers boost yields and the city’s shared cloud-based system enables small firms to reduce production costs and time to market. Toronto has the largest urban renewal project currently in development in North America: Waterfront Toronto. This new community will provide Internet at 500 times the speed of conventional residential networks, a foundation that will propel Toronto to the upper levels of intelligent communities.

In a more detailed report about Tallinn, ICF says the following: Estonia saw a major boom from 2004 to 2007, as loan capital poured in from Scandinavian countries. The country’s rise from Soviet occupation, beginning in 1991, had been miraculous, but the wave of investment was more than the market could usefully absorb. When the financial crisis came, it hit Estonia and its principal city of Tallinn very hard. Several thousand companies went bankrupt and layoffs, particularly of the low-skilled, rose into the tens of thousands. Yet beneath the froth, Tallinn has put into place the foundations of ICT-based growth and generating a strong comeback.

Tallinn’s first wave of IT industry growth was driven by national government spending on an amazing range of e-government applications. Its return to growth has a more sustainable basis in education and entrepreneurship. With 23 universities and technical schools, Tallinn has the resources for a knowledge workforce: it has focused now on expanding access and filling demand for ICT and digital content skills. From 2007 to 2011, Tallinn Technical University doubled participation in lifelong learning programs.

The city is expanding public access computer sites and training programs for the disconnected, while a public-private project called EstWin will extend 100 Mbps broadband throughout Estonia by 2015. To support local startups and attract talent from beyond Estonia’s borders, Tallinn and its educational and business partners have launched multiple incubators targeting creative services, medical and biotech, mechatronics and ICT.

Europe’s first gaming accelerator opened in Tallinn this year, and its Ülemiste City industrial estate is expanding 50 per cent to house 250 companies, making it the Baltics’ biggest knowledge-based development. When the 2008 global economic crisis struck, Tallinn moved fast to launch aid packages to get residents and companies through the bad times with their skills and ambitions intact. The value of the city’s short-term response and its long-term strategy will be proven in coming years.

About Intelligent Community Forum

The Intelligent Community Forum seeks to share the best practices of the world’s Intelligent Communities in adapting to the demands of what it calls “the Broadband Economy” by conducting research, hosting events, publishing books and newsletters and producing its high profile international awards program. ICF’s mission to make “place” align with prosperity has drawn the attention of global leaders and thinkers everywhere. The ICF Foundation consists of over 100 communities, cities and regions that have been globally designated as Intelligent Communities and which participate in an ongoing dialogue to strengthen local economies. For more information, go to www.intelligentcommunity.org


Main photo: Allan Alajaan/Tallinn City Tourism Office

Second photo: Erik Riikoja/VisitEstonia

Tallinn among the Top 21 intelligent communities in the world

The international think tank Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) included Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, on its list of the 21 most intelligent communities in the world. Making it onto the Smart21 list is the first step in the competition of over 400 communities worldwide vying for the title of the …

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