The visit to Kuopio came as the relationship between our two cities marked a half-century.
- Kuopio is the eighth-largest city in Finland and is in the eastern part of the country – 130 miles from the Russian border.
- The city is a cultural center and has prominent healthcare and food safety industries.
- The city’s integration with water makes it a hub for year-round, water-related sports enjoyment and seafood savoring.
For historical and political context, Finland joined NATO earlier this year. Finland and the state of Minnesota have approximately the same population at 5.5 million and 5.7 million, respectively, while Minnesota is approximately two-thirds the size of Finland in land mass.
I was struck by the branding that our sister city uses: ‘Kuopio by Nature.’ Sound familiar? It should because Minneapolis branded itself ‘City by Nature’ in 2011 based on how well we own that brand promise that “Minneapolis is the perfect blend of natural beauty and urban sophistication.”
Lake Kallavesi surrounds the City of Kuopio on three sides and the lake has an area of 182 square miles. For comparison purposes, Lake Minnetonka covers approximately 23 square miles. Their Kuopio by Nature credentials also include 100 lakes within the city (188,000 lakes nationwide) and forests cover 80% of the country of Finland. While there, I had a chance to experience their trails and parks which truly rival our own.
The content of the mission was relevant on many levels. We exchanged expertise with public sector and private industry representatives in the areas of:
- Secondary education
- Public works
- Emergency preparedness
- Destination development
- Tourism promotion
- Arts and culture
Of the many lessons l learned from this trip, I was most impressed with how Kuopio lives the city by nature brand. The water is extremely accessible and there are many no- and low-cost amenities available to enjoy.
Some of the officials we met with had recently visited Minneapolis, and we can count on them to be destination evangelists based on their experiences here. We know that one of the main drivers of leisure travel to Minneapolis is visiting friends and relatives. And as result of our city’s strong Finnish roots, it provides us the opportunity to increase visitations from the country that is known as the ‘Happiest Nation on Earth.’ By the way, the U.S. ranked 15th.