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We're first for Finnish firm

Winnipeg office company's debut in North America

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A Finnish environmental technologies company, which received a national innovation award in December from that country's president, is planning to set up shop in Winnipeg this year to serve as a beachhead for expansion throughout North America.

Mikko Kantero, managing director and chief executive of Preseco Oy, was in Winnipeg last month making preparations for the company to open a Canadian office, probably by summer.

"Most of our business is already outside Finland in the Arabic world, Asia, South America and now we want to get into North America," he said in an interview in Winnipeg in late January. "We decided to make our entry into North America from Winnipeg because we believe it makes more sense to start with a market that has a manageable size."

Preseco offers integrated technology solutions for waste, water and energy management. The company was formed in the mid-'80s after it developed technology to produce biogas from protein-rich waste material.

But since the early part of the decade, it has developed a more comprehensive and creative approach to waste, water and energy solutions for its public- and private-sector clients. In addition to licensing third-party technology and bringing on partners for projects, the company also offers financing options for its customers.

John Fjeldsted, executive director of the Manitoba Environmental Industries Association, said while Preseco may have some of the characteristics of a specialized engineering firm, it may be a unique enterprise.

"Preseco looks to take a holistic approach to issues," Fjeldsted said. "Not a lot of engineering firms are prepared to do that."

Jim Downey, a former Tory industry cabinet minister and a business development executive with PricewaterhouseCoopers in Winnipeg, is advising Preseco in its move into the Manitoba market.

"This is green technology that can provide some real solutions for shovel-ready projects that are out there right now," Downey said.

Kantero said a couple of people from Preseco's headquarters in Finland will probably be in Winnipeg in the next couple of months. He said he believes the firm may need to hire as many as 10 people within a year.

The company has grown substantially for several years -- annual revenue is about $35 million -- servicing the densely populated European market and developing markets like the Middle East and northern Africa. But it is not a foregone conclusion that its solutions will be effective in Manitoba.

Paul Deprez, president of Nordevco Associates, a Winnipeg environmental technologies company, noted there might be challenges for a company with European technologies operating in a small province with cheap energy and lots of land.

"We are bit players when it comes to environmental technologies and there is an inclination to import technology from outside the province and then apply it here," Deprez said.

But he said he believes homegrown solutions might make more sense in Manitoba, at least partially because hydroelectricity rates are among the lowest in the world, rendering the economics of alternative energy production, like biogas, more questionable.

Another industry source, who asked that his name not be used, said early experiments in biogas production in Manitoba have proven to be management-intensive and costly.

Fjeldsted said Preseco's creative solutions may well be what's needed, but he agreed the North American market might pose a few challenges.

"In Europe, the tipping fees are much and there are far more stringent regulations when it comes to bio-waste in landfills," he said.

Kantero said he has heard all of the concerns and understands his company needs to be able to overcome the "bad experiences, rumours and negative perceptions" that are part of the industry chatter.

"Because the environmental business is growing and changing fast, there is space for all kind of actors," he said in an email exchange.

"I am very confident to say that whenever we get customers or other interest groups visit our reference sites and talk to our customers, they realize that what we are selling and talking about is true, proven and yet novel."

Kantero would not be specific, but said there are potential customers -- both private sector and municipalities -- that the company is negotiating with.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 27, 2009 B4

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