Enticed to go back home by booming job market

Published: 07.05.07

Nationen (Bjarne Bekkeheien Aase)

Ølensvåg in Rogaland is a good example that you do not need to operate from urban areas in order to succeed. Local founders have created companies that now branch out worldwide. With its 750 inhabitants Ølensvåg could almost be considered a village. However, with a flourishing business and commerce life, and the help of local entrepreneurs, it has been transformed to a labor metropolis.

Sigmund Lunde (45) started with only his bare hands 20 years ago. Now, his IT corporation Omega has 425 employees spread around the world.

Omega AS

The headquarters are situated in Ølensvåg, which is the same place Peter Øren (29) found his dream job in computing. He thinks the business and commerce is of vital importance to the small town.

Here, the jobs are even more exciting than in the cities, and that contributes to a lot of young people moving back home after getting their education, Øren says, and points to a lot of friends and acquaintances who have moved back.

He met his wife, Silje Tjelmeland Øren (32), when he went to school in Bergen. Now they are a well-established family in their old familiar neighborhood with David as the latest arrival in the new family.

We both hail from this area and attractive job opportunities were contributing factors to our moving back, they say. There has also been a positive development in the area lately, they add, and point out building projects and initiatives realized with the co-operation of the county and businesses.

Information technology entrepreneur Sigmund Lunde is the man behind one of the many expansive companies in the Ølen area. Omega, a software developer for the oil and gas industry, is now expanding their headquarters in Ølensvåg to house twice as many employees. The corporation has branches around the country in Norway, and daughter companies in Australia, Singapore, USA and Canada.

When dealing with customers it might not seem like the most natural thing to be located in Ølensvåg, says Lunde. But with many skilled team members, stable manpower and good co-operation we are doing very well.

Murmansk and the northern areas of Norway are target areas in the years ahead, and the company is also considering establishing an Oslo office. That has proved to be a challenge so far, though.

We recognize the need for our presence in the capital, but everyone we have sent there has gotten homesick after not very long, Lunde smiles. He can see his staff increased by 120 new people just from last year.

Commuting many miles

The family-owned West Contractors AS is another large employer in Ølensvåg. The last five years they have increased their permanent staff from 160 to 250 employees. In addition to this are the 380 guest workers quartered in workmen's huts. At peak times there are 1300 workers in the shipyard. Ship construction and reconstruction of oil rigs are among their specialties, and there are about 60 ships being worked on every year.

The shipyards are in constant demand for manpower and we have many people commuting, from Odda in the East to Karmøy in the West, says operations manager Arne Matre. He thinks part of the reason Ølensvåg has succeeded is the environment and the spirit of cohesion.

I think it is in the culture around her. Moreover, seeing that others succeed, can give people the fortitude to try and go for it, Matre thinks.

New headquarters

Shipping company Sandfrakt and contractor Berge Sag are other larger companies with more than 50 employees in Ølensvåg. Another company that makes the best of the good times is Ølen Betong. The company has contracts for more than 250 million NOK at the Snøhvit project in Hammerfest, and they are building large parts of the highway between Kristiansand and Grimstad. Even with busy activity outside their geographical vicinity, more than half of the company's employees are located in Ølensvåg. The company is currently also constructing a navbar-brand new 1500 square meters headquarters right in their hometown.

What has happened here in the last 30 years is nothing less than an industrial adventure, and nothing promises that it would end, says CEO of Ølen Betong, Arne Haldorsen. The company is now investing over 30 million NOK in new mobile concrete mixing plants, and they have their eyes on new big oil projects in Murmansk. - We have a delegation up there now, and by the fall we are counting on establishing the company there. It is important to position ourselves for the Shtokman development, Haldorsen concludes.