The city of Bogotá’s investment to attract IT companies was on a smaller scale but no less important to attracting business. “Lack of English-language skills was perceived as an obstacle for the IT sector, so we worked with the Economic Development Secretary to tackle it,” said Adrianna Suarez, director of the city’s investment promotion agency, Invest in Bogotá. “In 2008 we developed a program called Talk to the World to certify Englishspeaking people. Right now, 10,000 people are certified as English speakers, helping investors to find talent.”
Think Client Service
Cities can help attract companies and organizations to their chosen clusters by holding regular conversations with industry leaders; forging connections between businesses, investors, and talent; and organizing road shows and conferences. Mayors can play a leading role, using their convening power and connections and leading trade delegations that travel to target regions. Mike Bell, mayor of Toledo, Ohio, in the United States, succeeded in attracting Chinese companies to his city even though Toledo ranks 182nd in Forbes’s 2012 Best Places for Business and Careers. The mayor pitched Toledo’s advantages— affordability, manufacturing know-how, and central location at the intersection of two major interstate highways—and made three official visits to China with this pitch. His reward was Chinese investment worth more than $6 million, a new metalworking plant for a Chinese company, and the promise of further investment worth $200 million.
But it is not only about shouting a city’s wares. Key to successful economic development campaigns is the attitude that investors and businesses are the city’s clients and the city must do what it can to help them thrive. “Our main question is, how can we, the city, serve them well?” commented Marcelo Haddad, president of the investment promotion agency Rio Negócios in Rio de Janeiro. Bogotá’s investment promotion agency provides free investment support services including fact-finding visits to the city, administrative support to apply for permits and comply with regulations, and programs to develop a trained workforce. Between 2010 and 2011, foreign direct investment in Bogotá increased by 27 percent. The UK government made legislative changes to entice companies to London’s Tech City, making it easier to issue visas to those running entrepreneurial companies and updating intellectual-property rights laws.
Some cities engage still more deeply, believing that an important way to drive a city’s economic growth is to home in on local companies that demonstrate high growth potential, as opposed to supporting all small businesses or focusing only on trying to attract new ones. This is tooltip, a US organization that promotes entrepreneurship, sees this as an often-overlooked element of what it calls economic gardening. It might entail connecting high-growth companies with those that can offer strategic advice on how to develop new markets or refine their business models, for example.
PLAN FOR CHANGE
Smart growth means planning for what lies ahead. The world has many examples of cities that have expanded rapidly without any kind of planning. The result is chaotic at best, but too often it also impedes further development and is detrimental to citizens’ quality of life and the environment. City leaders therefore need to be forward looking, planning for growing and changing populations and the impact on transportation, schools, hospitals, and many other aspects of city life. They also need to make sure those plans can be adapted over time to reflect the changing needs of the city. The most effective cities adopt a regional perspective and make the planning process inclusive and flexible.