Q: You are widely credited with having transformed Braga into a much more investment-friendly and open destination. Do you agree?
A: Not being very modest, I would definitely agree. I think I filled the gap. Braga is an important city full of resources. When I became mayor in 2013, we had so much potential that had accumulated, but had not been taken care of. So I think that my biggest impact was gathering public, private and academic players to the same table, and aligning the strategy of the city’s growth, thereby [increasing] projects and results.
My first initiative was to create Invest Braga, the first local economic development agency in Portugal, which then had a couple of replicas such as Invest Porto and Invest Lisbon. [I also established Start-up Braga], to foster the city’s entrepreneurial spirit. It is not a broad scope incubator or accelerator, and it has four main areas: IT, biotechnology, nanotechnology and health sciences – which are our strengths.
Q: How else are you giving Braga global significance?
A: In terms of international promotion, one of the biggest changes in Braga since I was elected is its openness to the world. We started participating in all international networks, such as the Global Parliament of Mayors. I am also one of the OECD’s champion mayors for inclusive growth, a network of mayors from all over the world.
Our growth in tourism is also spreading the word, as well as having companies in Braga such as Bosch, one of the best companies in the world. Bosch is investing in Braga not as it would in Morocco or eastern Europe – to take advantage of low wages – but because of our knowledge and ecosystem do top-notch research and create new innovative products.
Q: Do you believe the Portuguese government gives enough support to Braga, and other cities outside Lisbon?
A: I don’t want the national government to create any obstacles. What I expect is [for it to] make our work easier, not more complicated. In terms of the national investment policy, it has been a problem with all governments and all parties: they just look to Porto and Lisbon, especially for infrastructure.
For instance, regarding our transportation system, until this year Braga provided all the funding for transportation from the local budget. In Lisbon and Porto they were funded by the national government, with a lot of investment. It’s a completely different reality here.
Q: Braga produces lots of talent, but is there enough supply for medium or large foreign companies?
A: I think our biggest safety net is the quality of life in the city. We have managed to guarantee a high quality of life to our population. Therefore, people come to Braga – youngsters and very skilled individuals – because they have the job opportunities, cost-competitiveness and everything they need to have a family or happy personal life.
Braga has high levels of education, and is home to one of the best hospitals and health systems in the country. We have a wide dynamic in terms of sports, activities, and in terms of culture, infrastructure and leisure.