Finlandia, a great place to be


Ancient boulders scoured from the glacier's past are historical gray giants that watch the fresh forests of fir and pine. Fresh sea breezes warmed by a thin, summer sun caress ripe brown fields and clean the air.

Just outside Helsinki, Finland Merri and I head to a museum that was formerly home for three famous architects. Here we enjoyed a wonderful fresh lunch overlooking White Lake where we learned more of Finland's history.

This was our first time to this vast country and several facts we learned were of some surprise. For example Finland is not part of Scandinavia (it is a Nordic country) and is related to Eastern Europe with its borders just a few miles from Estonia and St. Petersburg, Russia. This is the seventh largest country in Europe yet has only five million plus inhabitants. And this is a new nation, a Sovereign Parliamentary Republic formed in 1917 after many years of occupation by Sweden and then Russia.

We were only there a short while and much of that was occupied with my speaking, interviews and business meetings, so we did not get to see a lot, but there are several interesting observations I would like to share.

Helsinki-Vantaa airport is one of the nicest in the world. All chrome and glass, high ceilings with lots of light and air, everything is neat, clean (as was everything we saw in Helsinki) and well organized. Helsinki is a boater's paradise, sitting on the sea. One sees harbors everywhere lined with boats ranging from modern fiberglass powerboats and gin palaces to ancient wooden square riggers and two and three masted sloops and schooners. The city has a wonderful downtown area with excellent, old architecture, some nice city parks and every modern facility and accommodation.

The Hotel Kamp, where we stayed is one of the nicest places to be. This hotel is part of the Starwood Sheraton group and I was invited there to speak to the members of the Balance Club, the first class spa that sits atop the hotel. We met some wonderful people for a brief time and enjoyed the hotel which was built in 1887. This is a grand old building totally refurbished in 1999 to the highest standard. The décor, the service, the art, everything is plush and perfect-people charming and polite. Merri and I have stayed at more hotels than we care to think about in 60 or so countries in the past 30 years and our suite and the overall ambience of this place was simply one of the best. You can see pictures at http://www.hotelkamp.fi/

One thing I loved most about Helsinki is the fact that every imaginable facility is available, yet there are no crowds. The traffic is light and with just five million people in this huge nation you have a wonderful feeling of space.

Finland in the short time we were there appealed to my outdoor sprit with 196,000 lakes and a coastline of 24,000 miles….and most of the nation filled with forests. They have a national concept there that the land belongs to everyone so these woods are free for roaming regardless of who owns the land.

The area around Helsinki reminds me of the lower altitudes of the Cascade Mountains or mid British Columbia, brash, bold, fresh, raw, a volcanic energy set amidst perfect peace and quiet. Of course we were there in late August and the winds were warm, skies perfectly blue and the sunshine bright. I do not doubt that in February, when the days run so short they are almost non existent and the snow piles up, that I might feel differently. I was told however that March is a wonderful time in Lapland up north, sunny and perfect for cross country skiing.

Finland was named the number one country (out of 142) in a survey carried out by the World Economic Forum measuring how well countries take care of their environment. Finland did especially well in three areas, keeping air and water clean, maintaining a high institutional capacity to deal with environmental problems and having a low level of greenhouse gas omissions.

Finland is also a very interesting place for investing. The Finns were leaders in the information era and helped lead the way with Nokia. It is easy to see how this Nordic nation knows how to be on the leading edge. One of the best investment recommendations I made in the early 90s was to invest in the Finnish stock market. The numbers led me to that recommendation then. Now I see why.

The future also bodes well as the next era will see a health care revolution (more on this in Friday's message) and if so, Finland is well set even now. Finland is a leader in health care and biotechnology, especially in areas that turn research into commercially viable products. This small nation of only five million people hosts one tenth of Europe's bio-sector enterprises and the Finnish state has set up the Finnish National Fund for Research and Development (Sitra). This foundation has created a network of strategic biotechnology investment funds to help finance startups in this field. This and a dozen or so other venture funding sources plus a communications network that lets many small startups tap into central information has helped Finland get a huge head start in this field.

Also because Finland is a leader in information technology (Nokia for example) the nation has combined this skill with the life sciences to create a platform for advancing bio-informatics which is the interchange between bio science and information technology. This is a rapidly growing field with huge potential. One area alone for example is creating database designs for DNA genomes.

I visited one center in Helsinki where they have developed a system so one can coordinate their entire medical records on the Internet so they are available anywhere in the world in a manner that the patient can understand.

All this is added to Finnish efficiency. Finland was ranked second only behind the United States for competitiveness in 2002 by the International Monetary Fund.

Add this all together, the natural beauty, space, an efficient work force tackling leading edge technology financed by plenty of venture capitalists and you have a place that might really be a great to be. Throw in one of the finest luxury hotels and all those lakes plus the beauty of Lapland! Finland is worth a visit.

Am I ready to move there? No. Winter's are still going to be dark and gloomy and the flight is a long way from here. Will I go back? If the good Lord permits, I can't wait.

Will I put on a seminar in Finland? I am thinking about this for the summer of 2003, where we would look at investment potential in the bioscience field and enjoy. If you are interested let me know at gary@garyascott.com

For now though let me remind you of our upcoming seminar in Orlando. Details are at http://www.garyascott.com/courses/536/

Until my message tomorrow (about a great stock I just invested in using inspired investing), I hope wherever you are is great!

Gary


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