Small Business from Small Islands: Showcasing Successful Manufacturing Firms

Showcasing Successful Manufacturing Firms


For the first phase of their research, the 11 NISSOS partners of this project have identified 144 manufacturing firms from their respective island regions that are successful – meaning: export oriented, locally owned, employ less than 50 employees, and have some form of adapted technology. (Of course, this data can change: new firms are set up, others are folded up, others merge, take over or are acquired by other firms.)
Island Territory Population Land Area (Sq. Km.) No. of Islands (populated) Jurisdiction

No. of Successful Firms

Successful Firms per 10,000 population Their mean workforce (as at 2003)
Aland 26,000 1,430 21 autonomy 25 9.6 15.9
Iceland 290,000 103,000 4 sovereign 42 1.5 26
Malta 400,000 316 3 sovereign 33 0.8 22.5
Saaremaa 36,000 2,900 7 county 19 5.3 23.3
Scottish Isles 100,000 10,110 87 spread over 6 local authorities 25 2.5 10.5

The ‘density’ of such successful firms varies between the territories, from a high of almost 10 firms per 10,000 resident population in the case of the Ålands, to less than 1 firm per 10,000 residents in the case of Malta . The lower the population, the higher the density of successful manufacturing firms. Iceland suggests the highest mean employment levels among such SMEs, with an average workforce of 26 employees (inclusive of subcontracted personnel). This could be indicative of more vigorous growth and expansion beyond the initial start-up staff complement. The Scottish Isles have the smallest mean employment level of just 10.5 employees per firm, suggesting low consolidation. The Saaremaa case is of firms having been established exclusively since 1990, many via conversions and privatisation; mean employment levels in such firms may have gone down in the last decade, even with business expansion , as a result of rationalisation and a quickening of technological input.

The data of these successful small firms from the five island territories can be displayed in terms of the economic manufacturing sub-sector to which their products belong:

Island Territory Natural Natural Chemical IT / Hi-Tech
  Craft Agro Plastic Engineering
Alands wood panels processed meat sausage skins purifier units
 N = 25 furniture fish processing air cleaning systems IT / software
  sheet-metal (9) sour apples (7) plastic printing (5) welding
        electrical systems (4)
Iceland   cod/shark liver oil sulphur resistant pipes Artificial Intelligence Games
 N = 42   cattle food plastic tubs Virus Software
    Candy fishing nets electrical equipment
    poultry processing fibreglass boats fish industry equipment
    fish processing (20) fish scales (9) digital EEGs (13)
Malta decorative glass olive oil plastic pipes / cables IT packages
 N = 33 gold/silver filigree wine / sausages paints / detergents software support
  furniture (6) sun-dried tomatoes labels / packaging solar panels (6)
    liqueurs (6) injection moulding (15)  
Saaremaa wooden boats fish processing rubber products (2) aluminum boats (2)
 N = 19 wooden houses berry processing    
  lime / agar meat processing    
  limestone craft (8) fur products (7)    
Scottish Isles stone Preserves toiletries / soaps (2) electrical instruments
 N = 25 woolen knitwear / fabrics Beer   flexible circuits
  jewellry Whisky   observation devices
  pottery / drums smoked salmon (7)   transformers (4)
  furniture (12)      

The above data permits some interesting observations:

There are no craft based products available from small successful firms in Iceland, possibly because the country has very high labour costs and cannot compete on such products with cheaper manufactures from other locations. However, the story is markedly different in relation to the fishery industry, which is the focus of a large diversity of successful manufactures (including food derivatives) in Iceland.

Saaremaa has very few manufactures involving local technical and technological skills, other than in rubber products and aluminum boats. In contrast to Iceland, Estonia remains primarily a low wage location with manufactures that compete mainly on a cost basis.

Malta’s successful firms are to be found mainly in the plastics/chemical sub-sector. The food/agro sector appears to be largely under-developed as a niche export market in Malta, in spite of the international acclaim granted to Mediterranean cuisine.

Manufactures from the various islands of Scotland are concentrated amongst natural products and derivatives. Some of these products, like knitted woolens, smoked salmon and whisky, are very well known in export markets. Even here, there are just a few, cutting-edge, technology firms.

The Åland Islands have the most diversified portfolio of manufactures. Being Swedish speaking yet part of Finland enables Åland-based firms to exploit dynamic markets in both mainland Finland and Sweden. This, in spite of a very small population of just 25,000.

Small Business from Small Islands – NISSOS Project 

Overview | Acknowledgements | Introduction | The NISSOS Project and its Partners | Showcasing Successful Manufacturing Firms | Research Methodology | Discussion: Raw materials | Discussion: High-tech | General Conclusions

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