Cities across the globe are gradually coming out of the Covid-19 crisis, unleashing a new set of policies aimed at reigniting growth and development in urban areas as vaccination campaigns keep the pandemic in check. Cities across the Americas are no exception, and the sixth edition of fDi’s biennial Americas Cities of the Future ranking takes a closer look at the perspectives of locations north to south all along the continent. 

New York once more heads the field, retaining its status as a magnet for foreign investors. More broadly, the top 10 Americas Cities of the Future are all North American, proving the region has fared better overall during the pandemic and is well positioned to experience a faster recovery. These results reflect a broader reality regionally in the context of Covid-19 and beyond.

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The economic impact across the Americas has been uneven. No other region in the world has been hit as hard as Latin America and the Caribbean, according to IMF data, while North America somewhat contained the (still heavy) damage. Foreign investment reveals a similar pattern, with North America experiencing a dip of 10% in inward FDI projects on the previous year while Latin America suffered a 37% drop. The path ahead inevitably mirrors the geographic specifics of the economic fallout and the success – or failure – of local vaccination campaigns. The US is leading the pack and its economy is expected to bounce back to pre-Covid levels in 2021, while everywhere else in the Americas the recovery is likely to take longer. 

For this ranking, data was collected using the specialist online tools fDi Benchmark and fDi Markets. The locations were then benchmarked according to five main categories: Economic Potential, Business Friendliness, Human Capital and Lifestyle, Cost Effectiveness, and Connectivity. In addition, local economic development organisations (EDOs) and investment promotion agencies (IPAs) filled out a survey on their plans and strategies to compete in a sixth category, FDI Strategy, allowing some insight into soft factors influencing different locations’ performance.

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Download a PDF of these rankings here: 

fDi’s Americas Cities of the Future 2021/22 Winners

There have been some changes at the top of the leader board since the 2019/20 edition of fDi’s Americas Cities of the Future ranking. While New York once again holds the top spot this year, San Francisco has dropped one place to third while Toronto has advanced from third into second place.

New York’s Economic Potential (measured through indicators including GDP, growth forecasts, inflation, unemployment, and FDI figures) and Business Friendliness (measured through indicators such as corporation tax rate, days taken to start a business, strength of investor protection and credit rating) once more proved the strongest across the Americas, contributing heavily to the city’s top position in the overall ranking.

According to data from greenfield investment monitor fDi Markets, New York received a total of 908 inward FDI projects in the period analysed (December 2015-November 2020), more than double its closest competitor, Toronto. The city held a 10% share of total US projects for the period and has the highest GDP (purchasing power parity) of all locations studied. The UK is the largest source of foreign investment in the city, representing 29% of all inward FDI projects. The top three FDI recipient sectors in the city are software and IT services, business services and financial services.

Toronto has moved into second place in the overall ranking, and trails only New York across the region for Economic Potential and Business Friendliness. This year, Toronto also made it into the top 10 for Human Capital and Lifestyle (measured through indicators including number of universities, skillset of graduates, ease of finding skilled employees, the Social Progress Index and the Human Capital Index) and moved from seventh to sixth in Connectivity (measured through indicators that cover both information and communications technology, and transport infrastructure).

Aside from outperforming its nearest competitor, San Francisco, in Economic Potential, Toronto also advanced from third to second place in Business Friendliness, while San Francisco dropped from fifth to seventh. Foreign investors took notice – FDI figures form part of the Economic Potential category and are an indicator of a location’s appeal to foreign investors. fDi Markets data shows that FDI inflows peaked in 2018, but remained strong in 2019 and even in 2020 in the midst of the pandemic. The software and IT services sector is the top recipient of foreign investment in Toronto and received only two fewer projects in 2020 than 2019. Among others, Google announced in February 2020 that it will open a new 37,160 square metre office tower in the city.

John Tory, the mayor of Toronto, says: “I am proud that Toronto has ranked high in the Americas Cities of the Future list and that we continue to demonstrate that we are a vibrant, successful and liveable city in North America. We have a longstanding reputation as being a leader in a variety of sectors including technology and innovation, finance and healthcare, and we continue to invest in the infrastructure that all successful cities need to update and expand including housing and transit — all of which have created an environment that people and businesses want to come and experience. As we begin the reopening and rebuilding of our economy post-pandemic, I will focus on how we can continue to grow and succeed and attract people from all over the world to come to our city to work, play and live.” 

San Francisco is third in the overall ranking and holds the same place for Economic Potential. Unsurprisingly, the software and IT services sector is the largest recipient of foreign investment, representing 45% of all projects in the city from December 2015 to November 2020, according to fDi Markets. In the same period, of the 22 foreign companies that set up a headquarters in the city, 14 belonged to the software and IT services sector, further consolidating the city’s reputation as a tech hotspot. Projects include the announcement of expansions from UK-based Enable and Israel-based Appsflyer. Furthermore, San Francisco-based companies invested in 990 outward FDI projects in the period analysed, making it second only to New York.

Chicago, which jumped ahead nine places to sixth in the previous edition of the ranking, has moved up again into fifth place this year. The city experienced record FDI levels in 2019, and attracted more than 100 projects in 2020, according fDi Markets. In 2020, Netherlands-based NewCold established its US headquarters in Chicago and the city also received investments from the likes of Germany-based DHL Express, Japan-based NTT and UK-based Frank Recruitment Group. In addition, Chicago came in second for Human Capital and Lifestyle and fifth for Business Friendliness. 

Mexico City has once again been crowned Latin American City of the Future in this year’s ranking. It received a total of 353 inward FDI projects in the period analysed – the highest figure for any Latin American location and the third highest across all locations studied. Sixty-eight per cent of investment projects were in business services or sales, marketing and support activities, and the city represents 16% of all projects into the country for the period December 2015-November 2020. It is also one of two Latin American locations to be ranked among the top 10 Major Americas Cities in the Economic Potential category. In 2020, Netflix announced it would relocate its Latin America headquarters to Mexico City from São Paulo, Brazil.

Claudia Sheinbaum, mayor of Mexico City says: “The future of Mexico City is built by the talent and solidarity of its people, a city of innovation and rights.”

Bogotá has jumped from third to second place in this year’s Latin American Cities of the Future ranking and represents 44% of total inward foreign investment projects in Colombia. In 2019, US-based Concentrix opened a new customer contact facility in Bogotá, which will bring in 1000 new jobs, and Argentina-based Mercado Libre opened a technology and innovation centre in the city in 2020, creating 200 new jobs. São Paulo has come in third in this year’s Latin American Cities of the Future ranking and represents 24% of total inward FDI projects in Brazil. In 2020, the city received investments from the likes of US-based Dell Technologies, Germany-based Saertex Group and Hong Kong-based Binance. The Brazilian city is also the second Latin American location to appear among the top 10 Major Americas Cities for Economic Potential.

Carolina Durán, Bogotá’s secretary for economic development, says: “For Bogotá, being in second place in the regional ranking of Americas Cities of the Future 2021 is a recognition of the work of a city that is transforming to be more innovative, competitive, inclusive and attractive for investment. The arrival of new projects and companies makes a significant contribution to improving the social and economic conditions of the city's inhabitants through the creation of quality jobs, which invites us to continue strengthening Bogotá so that it is seen as a city prepared for the challenges of the future.”  

Vancouver has been named fDi’s Americas City of the Future in the ‘large cities’ category. Cities in this category have either an immediate city population over 500,000 plus a Larger Urban Zone (LUZ) population of more than 1 million, or an LUZ of more than 2 million. Almost 36% of Vancouver’s inward FDI projects in the period analysed were in the software and IT services sector and the city ranked first in North America for high-tech software job growth in 2020. That same year, Amazon announced it would add another 3000 jobs to its Vancouver technology hub. The city’s success this year is explained by its appearance among the top 10 across almost every category studied. It came in first for Business Friendliness, second for Economic Potential, sixth for Human Capital and Lifestyle and fifth for Connectivity.

Seattle is second in the Large Americas Cities ranking this year and also came second among its peers for Business Friendliness and first for Economic Potential. The city had 576 outward FDI projects in the period analysed, coming in behind only New York and San Francisco.

Mississauga once again takes home the title of fDi’s Mid-Sized Americas City of the Future. Locations in this category have either an immediate city population of more than 200,000 plus a wider LUZ of more than 750,000, or an immediate city population of more than 350,000. Mississauga also came in second for both Economic Potential and Business Friendliness, and third for Connectivity. The city in fact experienced an increase in foreign investment project numbers in 2020 compared to 2019, according to fDi Markets data, making it a unique case in the context of Covid-19 and its impact upon FDI figures across the region.

One significant project in 2020 came from Switzerland-based Roche Group. The company established its Global Pharma Technical Operations site at its Canada headquarters in Mississauga. The project will involve an investment of $500m through to 2025 and has created 200 jobs, with plans to create a further 300 by 2023. All top three Mid-Sized Americas Cities of the Future are Canadian, with Hamilton and Quebec coming in second and third place respectively.

Santa Clara, California has been crowned fDi’s Small Americas City of the Future this year, after coming second in the last edition of the ranking. Locations in the Small Cities category have immediate city populations between 100,000 and 350,000. Santa Clara, located in Silicon Valley and home to semiconductor chip manufacturer Intel, has also come second in Economic Potential and third in Business Friendliness. The city received four inward headquarters projects in the period analysed, including an investment from data specialist Hitachi Vantara, a subsidiary of Japan-based Hitachi, which has opened an expanded headquarters location in the city.

Palo Alto, California once again came in at the top of fDi’s Micro Americas Cities of the Future ranking (locations with immediate city populations below 100,000, and first for Economic Potential. The city had 232 outward FDI projects in the period analysed (a significant number for a micro city), 48% of these in the software and IT services sector. Likewise, 46% of the city’s inward projects were in this sector, all in keeping with its status as a tech hub and the “birthplace of Silicon Valley”. Palo Alto also experienced a slight increase in inward projects in 2020 compared to 2019, including the opening of Norway-based Strise’s US headquarters.

This article first appeared in the June/July print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.