As an expert in AI and robotics, she knows more than most about rapid changes. Nonetheless, she says the transformation in Örebro since she arrived from her native Canada 20 years ago has been profound.
Firstly, Örebro University itself has been a huge catalyst for the city’s development since opening in 1999. Then there’s the exciting part that a city known for its magnificent 13th century castle is playing in Sweden’s 21st century startup scene, thanks to the entrepreneurial hub Creative House.
Furthermore, parents say it’s an ideal place to raise a family for a host of reasons. The Local spoke to Professor Loutfi, and another even longer-standing international resident of the city, to find out more.
A region of young talent
Maybe you’ve seen the name Örebro but have no idea how to say it? Or where to locate it on the map? The city is the sixth largest in Sweden and has an enviable location in the heart of the country, just a little closer to Stockholm than Gothenburg. But anyone thinking of it as simply a stopping point between bigger cities is sorely mistaken. Professor Loutfi says the sense of opportunity in Örebro today is palpable.
“I came from a town on Canada’s east coast that was in decline with a shrinking population,” she says. “The city of Örebro, on the other hand, has a pulse and you feel it in the bone marrow of the place. There are people coming, new restaurants opening and new initiatives starting.”
The university offers Sweden’s most modern medical training programme, ranks third nationally for scientific excellence, and is an important node in the national AI network. Professor Loutfi has a strategic role in developing the university’s role in Swedish and European AI initiatives through the Wallenberg Foundation’s WASP programme.
“We have a strong university and that means a fantastic pool of young people,” she says. “If you’re interested in establishing a startup or relocating your current business, you’ll get access to a generation with solid knowledge who are often interested in staying and contributing to the region’s growth.”
Little wonder that local startups making innovative use of technology are flourishing. “It was all about skor [shoes] and kex [cookies] when I arrived,” recalls Professor Loutfi. “Now, a wide diversity of businesses keep the city vibrant.”
Location and lifestyle: ‘everything is possible here’
Richard Kennett, who grew up in Brighton in England, moved to Örebro in 1987 as a love-struck teenager who had fallen for a Swedish au pair. The city now has an international appeal and level of self-confidence he could not have imagined in the early days after his move.
“At first, Swedes would ask me ‘Are you mad?’” he remembers. “The entire personality of the city has been transformed. I’ve seen a metamorphosis over 15 or 20 years – and today everything is possible here.”
Having raised three children who were born in the city, he says: “I think Örebro has been the perfect place for them to grow up. We’ve had a great system from kindergarten through school and all their sports clubs and activities. It doesn’t take long to get anywhere.
“The geographic location of this city is phenomenal – and so is the choice of lifestyle. You can live in the middle of nowhere, in a country village close to the city, or in the city itself.”
Following the university’s opening, Richard cites the local hospital becoming involved in research as another key milestone (it’s now rated Sweden’s best university hospital). He credits “a generation of politicians who focused on vision and possibility”, as well as the city’s location, which means over 70 percent of Sweden’s population lives within a radius of 300km.
A home for families
Professor Loutfi, who has two daughters aged 11 and nine, also greatly values the family-friendly environment. As well as a sense of security and community, local residents enjoy easy access to outdoor activities and unspoilt nature.
“It’s beautiful here. You can hop on your bike and after 20 minutes you’re really out in nature and I think that’s different from Stockholm,” she says. “There are fantastic hiking trails nearby, like the Bergslagen hill range, where you can just go for a couple of hours or for a day.”
With the pace of developments in AI, has she ever thought about leaving? Even after a spell as a researcher in Spain, she knew she wanted to return to her adopted home. “I turn every stone and weigh all the pros and cons, which is what Canadians do,” she says. “I always come up with more pros [for staying].”
In Örebro, the list of pros for talented international people and their families keeps on growing.