White car speeding through the snow
Photo by: Test World

Entrepreneur-friendly environment in Lapland encourages responsible growth

Alex Burns, Managing Director of Millbrook Group (currently UTAC), which specialises in vehicle testing, found the arctic testing environment they needed to complement their business from Lapland.

The Millbrook Proving Ground Ltd. Group is one of Europe’s largest independent vehicle testing companies. At its testing grounds in Great Britain, it provides services to vehicle manufacturers and their suppliers. In 2015, the company extended its business operations by investing in Lapland.

“Part of my strategy at Millbrook is to expand the range of services offered to our customers and the enabling of winter testing was my primary goal at that time. This led us to be together with Test World (currently UTAC Ivalo), Europe’s leading independent company specialised in winter testing,” says Alex Burns, Managing Director of Millbrook Group.

Test World Oy, a company operating in Ivalo and specialising in the testing of vehicles, tyres and components, had just opened the world’s first indoor testing hall, which made it possible to have winter conditions year-round, and another indoor test hall was under construction.

Competitive advantages from winter conditions and local collaboration

The location in the far north separates Lapland from its rivals.

“Road and air connections are good, which makes it easy for our customers to send tyres and vehicles for testing and to come and visit our test area in Ivalo. However, what makes Lapland a topnotch environment for this industry is its long, cold winter, enough snow, and a generous number of dry winter days without rain, which allow our customers to finish their tests on outdoor tracks.”

According to a conservative estimate, customers of the test area bring three times more money than Test World’s own turnover. The growth of Millbrook’s large-scale investments has had and will continue to have a significant impact on the local economy.

“The entrepreneur-friendly environment in Lapland encourages responsible economic growth” Cooperation with the municipality of Inari has been excellent. Municipal officials have supported Test World’s expansion plans while at the same time taking care of Lapland’s delicate ecosystem with strict environmental requirements. We strive to be very responsible in order to minimise the impact of our actions on nature and local people, and we believe that this facilitates cooperation.”

Future business opportunities in the winter testing of electric vehicles

Data communications connections are good in Lapland, but according to Alex Burns the situation could be even better in Ivalo, as Millbrock already has a 5G test platform in Great Britain. “A 5G infrastructure would create new business opportunities for Lapland – testing of connections for cars and cars in winter conditions. This would complement our services in the UK.”

Burns also sees opportunities for new business in the arctic testing of electric vehicles.

“Cold weather reduces the range of electric vehicles, so ensuring reliability is critical for their future deployment. The introduction of electric vehicles will help to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and limit the impact of climate change, which is critical in protecting the magnificent winter environment in Lapland.”

A cold and remote place turned out to be hospitable and easy to reach

His preconception of Lapland as a cold and distant place was initially strengthened when Alex Burns had to wait to get to Ivalo due to remodelling work at the airport.

“When I finally got there, I was impressed with the scenic landscape of the autumn and the kindness of the people. I was also positively surprised by the quality of telecommunications connections and infrastructure in the area.

However the employees of Test World still wanted to test the British manager’s ability to adapt to Lapland culture in the winter. A joint evening social event included sauna, taking a dip through a hole in the ice in freezing temperatures while it snowed, and carving an evening snack from a reindeer shank. The encounter between the two cultures was successful and deals were made. The man responsible for organising the evening, Janne Seurujärvi, started as the new managing director of Test World.

Success has required collaboration with other companies in the region, as Test World’s customers purchase services from airlines, carriers, hotel and restaurant operators, providers of program services, petrol stations and shops.

“One big question was hotel capacity. During the high season it can be challenging to find enough accommodation for our customers. Cooperation with the local hotel has led them to add rooms, which has made things a lot easier.”

A lot of investments have been made in Ivalo to improve reachability.  An expansion of the Ivalo airport, already the second since Test World joined Millbrook, is soon to be completed.

(Published 10/2019)