Joining Belgium and Finland around data centres

At first glance, it’s hard to think of two cultures more different than Belgium’s southern French speaking Wallonia and Finland’s southeastern lake region. Finland is rural, Nordic, and Lutheran, a place of big spaces, big forests, and big lakes. Belgium is urban, Latin and Roman Catholic, a place of crowded industrial landscapes, carefully cultivated fields and man-made canals.

Sunset at our data centre in Belgium
And yet, both are homes to Google data centres, and when our Finnish partners recently visited Belgium for two days of workshops, they found many things in common. Both regions built their economies on big traditional industries that are fast disappearing - paper and pulp in Finland, coal and steel in Belgium. Both have big neighbors - Russia and France. And both have a willpower to work with us to help jump, as our partners put it, “from the Industrial Heartland to the Internet age.”

It was a fruitful two day visit. The dozen-person Finnish team, lead by the regional development agency Cursor and Aalto University, told about their success in spawning video games startups and boosting online local tourism. The Belgian team, led by the local Mundaneum Museum spoke about plans to use the net for its upcoming 2015 celebration of the regional capital and hometown Mons as a European capital of culture.

We also compared common challenges - improving the two regions’ level of English and other skills needed to attract international business. Both regions aim to create web incubators and web startups, projects we are aim to support.

Over the past year, we have disbursed more than EUR1 million of grants to local organizations around the data centers. These fund a wide range of activities, from a Popmaton at Mons’ Andy Warhol exhibit to measuring water health in southeastern Finland’s rivers to supporting a computer science contest at the University of Mons, including exhibitions and talks on Internet issues and opportunities in both countries. It was gratifying to see our partners getting to know each other personally and pledging to work together to common goals. We have dug deep roots in these two different but similar regions and plan to continue planting deep roots in computer science, environment and empowering cultural institution.