• Cities need to focus on creating genuinely business-friendly environments.
  • The creation of educated and skilled workforces is paramount to meeting the needs of the 21st century.
  • Effective public and private partnerships are key to unlocking solutions to the challenges facing cities.
  • Encouraging entrepreneurialism is essential for wealth generation.

WalkerGrowth_1_351A lively debate at the ULI Fall Meeting in Denver on how cities can make themselves genuinely business friendly and attract outside investment saw presentations from three very different cities: Philadelphia; Barcelona; and Louisville, Kentucky. But many parallels were evident in both the challenges faced in generating growth in a time of economic uncertainty, as well as the strategies being deployed.

Philadelphia is tackling the challenge with a seven-pronged approach, which was outlined by Alan Greenberger of the city’s planning commission. At the heart of the city’s strategy is the need for government to be an advocate for economic development, accepting that the concept of growth is not a matter of ideology, but is essential for the ongoing survival of any urban location.  

The strategy sees the reform of the city’s existing systems with a new plan for sustainability and a review of planning regulations, not necessarily relaxing restrictions, but rather providing predictability in the process for all parties.

Philadelphia is readying its workforce for business by combining an effort to retain graduates from the city’s high-performing educational establishments with training programs among unskilled workers. Among the city’s other plans include building partnerships with a wide range of public and private organizations, making tax policy less onerous on business and being supportive of entrepreneurial endeavors.

Entrepreneurialism is also a theme at the core of Barcelona’s plans for growth, with the city priding itself on levels of entrepreneurial activity which outstrips both the wider Spanish economy as well as European averageJordi Sacristan of the Barcelona city council outlined the city’s vision for attracting business investment, a task which has increased in difficulty as the city’s reputation suffers from the negative perception of Spain’s wider economy and as key infrastructure projects are delayed by financial constraints.

Barcelona’s plans have centred on running the city as a business – building economic recovery while providing excellent service to its citizens. The council’s executive budget targets a zero deficit in 2013 and commits to ensuring the long term sustainability of public debt. In addition, the city is making itself more business friendly by increasing its investment readiness for strategic projects and committing to pay its suppliers within 30 days.

Creating a business friendly environment is also a tactic being deployed in Louisville, where the city is enjoying a growth in a number of its target industries driven by the city’s quality of place. Patricia Clare of Louisville Metro Economic Growth and Innovation described the city’s focus on four key industry sectors: logistics and distribution, automotive, ageing care, and food and beverage. The city’s strategic geographical positioning was key to continuing to attract logistics and automotive companies, but it was the real quality of the urban environment that had been particularly important in securing a significant number of ageing care and food companies to the area.

Echoing many of the themes raised by Barcelona and Philadelphia, Louisville was also focused on ensuring that it grew and maintained a skilled workforce as well as using strategic partnerships to further the city’s economic advancement.