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Products of the largest electronics company in Saaremaa can be found in abundance in Finnish saunas

The electronics industry, which is the backbone of economic life in Saaremaa, is fronted by OÜ Ouman Estonia – a major player that has been in business for over 20 years, reports Ärileht.

Even though Ouman Estonia has made considerable investments into purchasing smart robot lines, the company still has a lot of work that has to be conducted or verified by people. Thus, the enterprise provides work for 170 people, writes Ärileht.

“The business environment in Saaremaa is quite diverse and thank goodness that is so despite the fact that the people often see the islands mostly as a tourism destination,” said Erik Keerberg (54), Head of Ouman Estonia, a manufacturer of measuring, testing and navigation equipment, that has operated in Kuressaare for almost 21 years.

Although there may be summer periods during which the number of people in Saaremaa is 4–5-fold when compared to the population in the winter, the peak tourism season is still relatively short, lasting about 1.5 months and thereby making up only a small part of local economy. “It is still the industry that provides jobs for people and ensures employment in Saaremaa” added Keerberg.

There are three electronics enterprises operating in the Saare County: OÜ Ouman Estonia, OÜ Incap Electronics Estonia and OÜ Tepcomp. When assessing by turnover in 2018, Ouman (€ 17.8 million) is the largest of the three enterprises, followed by Incap Electronics Estonia (€ 17.3 million), and Tepcomp, which was established in 2013, ranks third with sales revenue of about € 700,000 per year. Ouman employs 170 people, Incap employs 89 people and Tepcomp employs 70 people.

Even though Ouman Estonia has made considerable investments into purchasing smart robot lines, the company still has a lot of work that has to be conducted or verified by people. Thus, the enterprise provides work for 170 people.

Product development plays an important role

“There is no shortage of electronics companies in Estonia, but there are few that are in direct competition with one another,” explained Keerberg, who has run the Ouman company since 2001. Most companies, not unlike Ouman, belong to a foreign group. “For example, Ouman does not classify itself as an enterprise focused solely on electronics, production of electronics is just one part of our process,” noted Keerberg.

Above all, the company sees itself as a designer and manufacturer of building automation products. “75–80% of our production results from our own product development.” The proportion of products sold under the trademark of other companies (not Ouman) is nearly as large. “We design a product for a client, it is sold under the client’s trademark and is registered as the client’s intellectual property,” explained Keerberg.

Although the workforce in Saaremaa is limited, Keerberg believes that companies on the island still have room for growth. “That’s the motivation driving our work – to strive forward and avoid standing still,” commented Keerberg. A large portion of the growth comes from automation and digitization, i.e. through processes that do not require additional workforce but allow for more production and increase in revenue. “I find it very likely that we will grow by another 10–15% in the near future without a lot of addition in workforce. This is not a problem, although the level of unemployment is very low in Saaremaa,” he added. For example, ten years ago, the company employed the same number of people, while its turnover was half the size.

Ouman finds that shortage of labour in Saaremaa is especially evident when recruiting specialists; however, so far they have made do without hiring migrant workers. “If you can’t find employees, you have to analyse the situation – in some cases, the problem lies within the company because it does not value its employees,” said Keerberg. He also noted that people who commute to work over long distances are offered a small commute compensation.

Their biggest client is a Finnish sauna manufacturer

In recent years, the enterprise has invested the most into technological innovation; the relevant annual investments may reach a million euros. “Of course, not everything can be done with robots, but some of this work can no longer be performed manually – a person is simply not able to compete with SND loading lines anymore. At the same time, we also have production processes that cannot be conducted with a machine,” said Keerberd. Ouman has plans to build another building next year, as the current production rooms are too small for the new devices.

Although Ouman’s products do not reach Estonia directly – the main markets are Finland and Sweden, where 95–98% of the output is sent – these products are still abundant in local households and public buildings. “A lot of those products make their way back to Estonia through our clients. For example, Harvia saunas are one of the most popular saunas sold in Estonia, and their control automation is produced entirely at our factory in Saaremaa,” said Keerberg. Harvia is also the biggest client of the enterprise.

Oras faucets, which are installed in many Estonian public toilets and activate when you put your hands under the faucet, use infrared sensors that have also been developed by Ouman. “Big players in the ventilation sector include Swedish groups such as Swegon and Systemair,” added Keerberg. Those companies also have their own sales departments in Estonia.

In 2016, Ouman Estonia was awarded with the title of “Best Employer of Saaremaa” and “Saare Kange” (Mightiest on the Island) for its contribution to the development of local entrepreneurship. “We have been in business here for a long time, earning profits, so that local people have jobs and can earn a living,” Keerberg commented regarding what earned them such acknowledgements.

Siiri Liiva, Ärileht: People from the island take their goods to Finland, Germany and Sweden

The number of companies in Saaremaa based partially or entirely on foreign capital is high. Additionally, the electronics industry is one of the main export sectors of the county.

According to data from the Saaremaa Development Centre, there were a total of 148 enterprises based partially or entirely on foreign capital in the county in 2017. As recently as in 2012 that number was 70. This indicates that a lot of additional foreign capital has been brought to the Saare County.

In addition to the food industry, manufacturing of metal products and transport equipment, rubber and plastics industry, the production of computers and other electronic products is one of the main fields, which is first and foremost focused on export.

The most important countries of destination for exports from the enterprises in the county are Finland (28% of exports), Germany (23%) and Sweden (22%). Other export markets make up

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