North Karelia is the easternmost region of continental Europe that shares a 296 km stretch of border with Russia. North Karelia has always been a place where east and west meet. With 1.6 million crossings a year, the Niirala border crossing point in Tohmajärvi is the third busiest in Finland. The big Russian markets are close by and Russian tourists contribute to the growth of the region's tourism, commerce and services.
The total population of North Karelia is about 162,000 (2018). The share of females of the region's population is 50.3% and that of men 49.7%. Within the region, the differences among the population structure and migration are great.
The competence-based growth industries of the future, forest bioeconomy and new technologies and materials, have taken off in North Karelia due to the active research carried out at the University of Eastern Finland located in Joensuu, the biggest town in the region. The region's traditionally strong industries include the forest, metal, extractive and food industries. The headquarters of the European Forest Institute is in Joensuu. The region's undisputable strength is forest bioeconomy, and more than 500 companies whose operations involve bioeconomy can be found in the region. The turnover of these companies is over 1.7 billion, and they employ more than 6,000 people. In addition, there are more than 600 experts employed in this field in the region: researchers, developers, trainers and administrative employees.
North Karelia invests in the welfare of people and the environment. The carbon footprint of North Karelians is, in fact, 36 % smaller than that of an average Finn. The region is a pioneer in the use of renewable energy and, in particular, bioenergy: renewable energy accounts for 63 % of the total energy consumption, which is high even on an international scale. North Karelia is also a model area in energy self-sufficiency: approximately 70 % of the energy consumed is produced in the region. Hilly landscapes covered with trees and dotted with numerous meandering rivers and many lakes are characteristic of North Karelia. One of Finland's best-known national landscapes is the Koli area with its many hills located in Lieksa by the Lake Pielinen. In North Karelia, the four seasons have a clear rhythm, and a snowy winter is guaranteed every year.
The Smart Specialization Priorities of North Karelia
1. The new era of natural resources Forest bioeconomy:
- Forest based bioenergy
- Decentralized bio-refinery and wood based materials
- Forest technology and logistics of forest harvesting
- Bioinformation economy
- Sustainable multiuse of forests and natural resource
2. Future growth areas Technology and materials:
- Material knowledge
- ICT programming
- Metal- and plastic products, composites
3. Russia as a trump card Russia know-how:
- Sustainable use and refinery of natural resources
- Cooperation in technology and research
- Russian tourism and services
- Business skills
More information on Smart Specialization in North Karelia here (pdf).