The global pandemic has presented many challenges to IPAs across the world, which generally rely on face-to-face meetings and site visits to showcase the attractiveness of their locations. Consequently, organisations have had to rethink their strategies and actions in order to maintain their engagement with investment prospects. According to a recent issue of Unctad's IPA Observer: “The pandemic has surfaced the critical role of IPAs. They have shown agility and reactiveness in supporting the evolving needs of investors. Some of the changes that IPAs underwent may last in the ‘new normal’.”

Acof 21 top 25

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The submissions for this year’s FDI Strategy category demonstrate the efforts made by IPAs to maintain visibility in the context of the coronavirus crisis, as well as other key programmes in economic development and investment promotion that contribute to the economic and social recovery of the cities they represent.

The most commonly cited action taken in response to Covid-19 was the move to online engagement, whether attending events, organising meetings and virtual site tours, or providing greater information in a digital format on existing and new platforms. The pandemic has shaken up the working methods of those who previously relied on face-to-face interactions that have had to move fully online – but it is possible these improvements made to online interaction and exposure could increase the visibility of many locations into the future. 

More than a quarter of respondents said they would increase their budget in 2021, revealing their enthusiasm to compensate for any missed opportunities. Below, we look at the judges’ top five Americas cities for FDI Strategy, and some of the initiatives they have implemented in what was an extremely challenging year. 

New York

New York is once again the judges’ favourite in this year’s FDI Strategy category. The city’s investment promotion body, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), employed more than 350 staff in 2020 focused specifically on economic development activities. NYCEDC offers an array of programmes and initiatives to support and stimulate investment in the city, such as the Business Intelligence and Development programme, which serves to meet the needs of investors and businesses, such as recruitment, incentives research and site selection.

NYCEDC, along with the Department of Small Business Services, recently launched the Small Business Resource Network to provide small and medium-sized enterprises with personalised guidance and resources. The organisation has also implemented schemes focused on promoting sustainable investment, including The Urban Tech Hub @ Company and RISE:NYC. 

In terms of digital marketing initiatives, its award-winning website provides information about projects, industries, services, opportunities and resources. In 2020, NYCEDC revamped Digital.NYC, an online hub for the city's growing tech ecosystem. The city is also expanding its support for businesses that make their products in NYC and is investing $136m in a Made in NY Campus at Bush Terminal, anticipated to open in 2021.

Mississauga, Ontario

Mississauga has jumped from 10th place in the last edition of the FDI Strategy ranking to second place this year, with the city’s Economic Development Office facilitating the creation of about 3000 new jobs in 2020. In response to the pandemic and the need to maintain its visibility, Mississauga participated in the virtual trade show AeroMart Toulouse 2020 to showcase the strengths of its aerospace sector and its attractiveness as a destination for FDI. 

Through its participation in Startup Bridge Canada, delivered through India’s Startup Réseau, the city gained direct access to decision-makers, allowing it to promote its value as an ideal location for technology companies to grow within the Canadian market, and to offer its services to support their location decisions. The launch of digital advertising campaigns targeting international life sciences companies resulted in a five-fold increase in traffic to the city’s life sciences webpage and strengthened Mississauga’s identity as a life sciences hub. During an FDI Mission in 2018, Mississauga met Beyond Japan, which in 2019 was introduced to the local technology ecosystem to understand the potential for growth in the Canadian market. Services provided by the city helped Beyond Japan de-risk its investment decision and it became an ambassador for Mississauga among other Japanese companies. 

San José, Costa Rica

San José in Costa Rica takes third place. The Costa Rica Investment Promotion Agency (CINDE) facilitated a record 81 new investment projects in 2020, including 26 new companies and 35 new expansions. India-based software development company Value Labs opened a new development centre in San José in 2020, creating 200 new jobs, and Ireland-based Johnson Controls, a diversified technology and industrial company, created 150 new jobs in the city the same year.

In response to the coronavirus crisis and the shift to online engagement, CINDE organised a virtual job fair to promote more than 3000 positions available at multinational companies (MNCs), and has focused on the development of tech, soft and language skills needed by MNCs that are growing in the city. CINDE uses artificial intelligence to launch marketing campaigns based on geofencing, lookalike investor profiles, behavioural data and whitelists for precise targeting, and uses machine learning for content marketing to send relevant articles to targeted companies. CINDE redesigned the Costa Rican Investment website in 2020 and added interactive data points with geolocation information on companies, the educational ecosystem, free trade zones, and the energy and connectivity grid, so that investors can gain a deeper understanding of such features in the city and the country.

With its eyes set on the next level of development, the municipality of San José is also developing an innovation district called T24, which will host national and overseas companies that specialise in technological innovation. 

Greater Montréal

Greater Montréal comes fourth in this year’s FDI Strategy category. Economic development agency Montréal International (MI) offers investors personalised, free and confidential services, which include operational advice, in-depth advice about government programmes, financial and tax incentives intended for foreign businesses, and an introduction to the city’s business network. An MI survey in April 2020 found that 62% of foreign subsidiaries in Montréal planned to maintain their investment despite Covid-19, so the organisation has put great effort into its expansion and retention activities focused on foreign subsidiaries. In response to the pandemic, MI has moved meetings from face-to-face to online, and replaced its traditional tours and missions with virtual experiences.

The agency encourages the use of green energy and promotes Québec's clean and affordable electricity as an asset for investment opportunities. It also works closely with the cleantech ecosystem to attract more sustainable investments and international organisations in the sector. In 2020, MI launched a digital campaign to raise its profile among Japanese investors as it believes AI advances made in the region have the potential to attract Japanese manufacturing companies. This included creating a landing page in Japanese and a social media campaign. The organisation received two Silver Excellence Awards from the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) in 2020, in recognition of the MI and I choose Montréal websites.

Savannah, Georgia

Savannah, Georgia claims fifth place, with the Savannah Economic Development Authority (Seda) facilitating the creation of 1218 new jobs in 2020. The IPA also launched the Savannah Technology Workforce Incentive, which provides $2000 reimbursements towards moving expenses for qualified technology workers relocating to Chatham County, an incentive that got national and international press. In response to Covid-19, Seda’s Business Attraction team conducted virtual site visits, hosting 22 such visits in 2020. These allowed prospects to meet with utility, transportation, government, workforce and other key partners and to view potential sites.

Also in 2020, Seda began developing an FDI Soft Landing Programme to facilitate the location of international companies in Savannah. As part of its efforts to promote sustainable investment, Seda partner SeaPoint Industrial Complex has launched its new Cleantech Campus. This will serve as an incubator for companies, organisations and higher educational institutions focused on advancing clean technologies in manufacturing, warehousing and logistics operations. Seda has shifted to more targeted marketing, creating personalised websites and digital brochures for prospective investors, and invested in geographic information system mapping technologies that enable it to create individualised story maps for potential clients.

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