Kick-start to new opportunities from project launched by Vesannon Yrittäjät

The Vetovoimainen Vesanto (‘Attractive Vesanto’) Project has proved more than worthy of its name. The success of the Reiska Football World Championships in July and the leisure resident events organised by the project has left everyone admiring the “tremendous drive” and togetherness of the small rural community.

“The project has given birth to a great many new ideas on the development of the region. It feels like this was just the kick-off,” says project manager Antti Tulila.

It was only as recently as early summer that the cheerleaders of the Vesanto entrepreneurs’ association described their home area in the following manner in the newsletter and culture guide published by the project: “Tervo and Vesanto are part of the deep countryside, where it is difficult to attract new industrial operations or significantly increase commuting to cities.”

The seminar for summer residents held in August had been given the slightly more bold title of “Making the impossible possible”. After an introduction by film director Markku Pölönen, the seminar focused on finding ways to lower the threshold for living in two homes and increase interaction between locals and leisure residents.

Put on the map by slippers

A little over a week after the seminar the impossible became possible as Reino & Aino Kotikenkä Oy announced it would establish a new slipper factory in Vesanto, employing around thirty people at the start of operations.

Sewing training will begin as soon as October; production of new Reino and Aino slippers will begin at during next spring at an annual rate of approximately 200,000 pairs. The Vesanto factory will probably focus on making tailored slippers, for foreign companies and sports clubs, for example.

For a small municipality, having the most famous brand in eastern Finland set up operations and gaining 30–35 new jobs in industry are almost like winning the lottery. Especially considering that it all started around five years ago, when a local taxi driver had the crazy idea of organising a feel-good football tournament where the only equipment allowed would be Reino slippers and a beach ball.

The shared source of pride and discussion will in part help the 500–600 leisure residents sink their roots deeper into the soil of this town located at the western brink of North Savo. The locals have always known how to make visitors feel welcome by being genuine, helpful and unhurried. So, given a choice, why would anyone want to leave?

The project is nominated for Leader Project of the Year in the Best Practices 2010 competition.

Text and photo: Jari Sihvonen