Vestland County is one of 11 counties in Norway, located on the western coast of the country. The county stretches over 34,000 km2 and is the fifth largest county in Norway. It comprises 43 municipalities, which all have a coastline. There are six national parks within the borders of the county. The latter is split up by several long and deep fjords. The fjords of the county are some of Norway’s most notable fjords and great tourist attractions. Bergen is the capital of the county.
A county is also an election area, with popular votes taking place every 4 years. In Vestland, the government of the county is the Vestland County Municipality. It includes 65 members who are elected to form a county council (Fylkesting). Heading the Fylkesting is the county mayor (fylkesordførar). Since 2020, Vestland County Council has been led by Jon Askeland, the county mayor. The county was formed after a governmental reform that went into effect 1st of January 2020.
The leading economic sectors are mostly connected to the ocean, tourism, and production of energy. Tourism, the petroleum sector, hydropower, fisheries, and maritime sector are the most predominant sectors. The county produces 25% over the total hydropower production in Norway and produces approximately 16TWh more energy from waterfalls each year than the region is using. The demand for energy is expected to rise in the future due to increased electrification in existing industries, new businesses establishing in the region, and a growing population.
The fisheries, the maritime sector, and the petroleum industry are closely working together to trigger the possibilities within each sector, the region’s competitive advantages, and natural resources. 50% of the production of petroleum is driven from Vestland County, and the need for and competencies for a green transition is therefore decisive.
The county’s unique nature with the fjords and the mountains attracts tourists from all over the world. The UNESCO listed Nærøyfjorden is one example of the region’s tourist attractions and depicts the region’s dilemmas concerning the balance between large amounts of tourists in a vulnerable fjord-landscape. Sustainable management and distribution of tourism in a vulnerable nature is a major concern and focus for both citizens, the industry itself, and the governmental bodies in the county.
Traditionally most of the immigration to the region has been driven by the need for the workforce in the petroleum sector. During the last 2-3 years, the region has had a lower growth rate in immigration, due to falling oil prices, digitalisation, and green transitions in the petroleum sector.
The regional development plan vision:
Vestland’s regional priorities reflect its respective advantages and challenges. Due to the regional reform, all regional strategies for the county are being revised to fit the new geographical area. The strategies’ focus is environmental, societal, and economic sustainability by taking advantage of the region’s technological, natural, and competitive strengths.
The strategy for innovation and development is being revised in 2020 and the first half of 2021, and the new strategy will have smart specialisation as the main methodology to develop and enhance the Vestland’s growth and evolvement. In 2021, new sector strategies are being prepared and decided, amongst those a strategy for the green shift, future energy technology, and a strategy for research, competence, and employment.
Through partnerships and collaboration both horizontally and vertically, within the quadruple helix-framework, the Vestland County Council aims at being the connecting hub for actors all over the county.