A little Twin Cities company called ZEF Energy and Finland's Kempower have started to collaborate on ways to improve products and accelerate the rollout of fast-charging electric vehicle stations.
The EV market share in Finland has risen from 2% to 20% over the last five years. It's around 2% in the U.S. Regardless, the ambitious electrification plans of U.S. automakers and consumers make this an interesting partnership in what is expected to become a boom business.
These two companies also are at the epicenter of emerging plans by Finland and Minnesota — each with about 5.6 million citizens and a wintry climate — to collaborate, trade and invest their way into a partnership that would help accelerate growth for both.
There's a lot of room for improvement.
Trade between the two countries totaled less than $20 million last year, making Finland Minnesota's 50th largest trading partner.
In March, a Finnish commercial delegation visited the Twin Cities, partly to observe companies from Finland that have substantial beachheads here, as well as existing and prospective Minnesota partners. Gov. Tim Walz and a business delegation in turn will visit Finland this month to explore further collaboration among research universities and businesses.
"We are not really hitting above our weight yet," said Mikko Hautala, Finland's ambassador to the United States, said in a telephone interview. "Minnesota and Finland are strong in similar sectors. If we want to increase commercial-economic cooperation with the U.S., we have to work with the states."
The Finns have targeted Minnesota and Michigan, which also boast the largest Finnish heritage and number of immigrant descendants.
The Minnesota trade mission also is visiting the United Kingdom, a much larger market for Minnesota goods and services.
Finland offers opportunity for greater growth and development of ground-breaking technology, Minnesota and Finnish officials said.
Ville Skinnari, the Finnish foreign trade minister, told the Economic Club of Minnesota last month that focusing on common technology and carbon-reducing products and services could help Finland and Minnesota shape a stronger relationship.
"We need to lead this charge together and by example. And move to a more 'circular economy' and more efficient use of resources," he said. "More bio-based materials and cleaner technology."
The Finns, who pay much more for imported fossil fuels, have a more energy-efficient economy and are committed to carbon neutrality by 2035 by developing a climate change-combatting economy. Walz is targeting 2050 in his policies.
The parties have signed an expansive letter of understanding that will guide partnerships.
Steve Grove, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, said the parties will look to work cooperatively through universities and businesses to create platforms that will result in concrete projects that will be expanded or commercialized, particularly in the area of "tackling climate change and successful promotion of clean technologies and the transition to a greener economy."
At least a dozen Minnesota companies operate in Finland. They include 3M, Cargill, Donaldson, Ecolab, World Kinect Energy, Kroll Ontrack, Northern Technologies and Protolabs.
And the Finns know something about Minnesota. Companies there own and operate forester-logger UPM, fishing-tackle maker Rapala and plumbing manufacturer Uponor, among others.
Finland-based Neste, the publicly traded biofuels pioneer, just acquired Agri Trading, a Minnesota-based biofuels-feedstock trader.
And Finland-rooted software firm Trustmary just raised $2 million in equity and established Minneapolis as its headquarters. Co-founder Arttu Haho said the Twin Cities is a growing regional tech hub with a collaborative culture and a good place to raise a family.
Uponor is the biggest and arguably most successful venture among the Finnish investments in Minnesota. From Apple Valley, the company's North American headquarters, Uponor is approaching $500 million in revenue.
The manufacturer of plumbing piping and other materials has expanded to seven Minnesota manufacturing and distribution sites and makes one-third of all the ultra-efficient "PEX" tubing sold in North America. It also has won a slew of sustainability awards.
Bill Gray, a 14-year Uponor veteran, runs Uponor North America and has overseen its faster-than-market growth over the last decade. Factory workers start at about $20 an hour with good benefits.
"We have been the right product in the right place at the right time," said Gray of Uponor's plumbing solutions for commercial and residential construction. "We've got over 700 people in Minnesota [at several sites.] There's the common Nordic heritage. A lot of shared values, including work, focus and industriousness."