The New York City Economic Development Corporation has won best investment promotion agency (IPA) of the year in fDi’s Strategy Awards 2021, with Montreal International and London & Partners coming in joint second. 

For this year’s edition of the fDi Strategy Awards, four judges from the fDi team reviewed 34 locations and agencies that stood out in the rankings published by fDi Intelligence in the past 12 months: Global Cities of the Future, African Tech Ecosystems, American Cities of the Future, and Tech Cities of the Future.

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With the ongoing difficulties being caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the judges also reviewed the aftercare services offered by IPAs and economic development organisations, eventually crowning Berlin Partner, the IPA for Germany’s capital city, as best IPA for aftercare services. 

Furthermore, with the increasing importance of moving towards a more sustainable future, the judges surveyed elements concerning the agencies’ approach to sustainability and environmental, social and governance practices — a category where the New York City Economic Development Corporation once again excelled. 

IPA of the Year

2021 Strategy Awards Best IPA

Winner: New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC)

NYCEDC have been crowned fDi’s IPA of the Year 2021. The organisation performed well in multiple areas, offering a wide range of incentives and further assistance by tailoring industry experts and programmes to businesses in the city. Since the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic, the NYCEDU has taken steps to slow the spread of the virus and protect the city, while also reducing factors that hinder business activities.

The agency has been fostering growth in a variety of industries across the city. Since the great financial collapse, New York City has seen its high-tech sector grow extensively, roughly 2.5 times faster than that of the overall economy’s workforce. The NYCEDC plans on following up the success of its tech sector by facilitating and promoting growth in areas such as finance, tourism and the life-sciences sector.

To achieve this, the organisation relies on a business intelligence and development programme that includes incentive experts, industry specialists and real estate advisers working to support businesses via one-to-one engagements, conferences and collaborations with local universities.

The operating risks presented to traditional business practices in the face of Covid-19 have been mitigated by the efforts of the NYCEDC in its active approach to dealing with the pandemic. In 2020 the NYCEDC launched the Pandemic Response Lab, a facility dedicated to processing Covid-19 tests within a two-day period. It has also partnered with businesses in the local area to produce protective equipment such as face masks, gowns and ventilators. 

Runner-up: Montreal International

Montreal International has placed as the joint runner-up in fDi’s Strategy Awards 2021. The Montreal chapter of the Consider Canada City Alliance surveyed its 2019 projects and found that 27% would have not opted for the Greater Montreal area without the assistance provided by Montreal International, while a further 61% reported they would have incurred a longer process or greater set-up costs.

The IPA has an ambitious and strategic focus to double the amount of FDI investment into the area over the next five years. This has been acknowledged and praised by the chair of Invest in Canada, who reported that it should become the model followed across Canada.

Tech sectors such as artificial intelligence, video games and visual effects have all seen growth, in part thanks to both the high concentration of tech workers, as well as the sector-specific tax credit incentives that the area offers.

Runner-up: London & Partners

London & Partners has placed as the joint runner-up with Montreal International in fDi’s Strategy Awards 2021. The agency has helped to nurture the growth of tech-sector jobs across the UK capital, now reporting more fintech companies than any other global city. 

London’s investment strategy is assisted by an abundance of capital available for organisations willing to set up in the area. According to Startup Genome, life-science start-ups in London receive an estimated $653,000 in seed funding, which is more than 20% greater than the global average for the industry (roughly $480,000). This has been achieved with the help of programmes that offer tax relief to different investors when they choose to direct their money into London.

Tech businesses are also assisted in their growth by the availability of talent — both locally and the access that can be granted to those abroad. Collaboration between London's academic sector and its tech scene is strong with many of its universities actively involved in running incubators or partnering with them. 

Start-ups can also benefit from the Tech Nation initiative, which assists businesses by giving them access to the Tech Nation Visa, a scheme tailored to make it easier for tech companies to employ foreign workers. 

Best Aftercare

2021 Strategy Awards Best Aftercare

Winner: Berlin Partner 

Berlin Partner champions this year’s award for the Best Aftercare, just one year after celebrating its 10th anniversary. Their aftercare and retention team assists companies and investors in Berlin by informing them about the support that is available.

Team members at local levels, as well as functional specialists in finance, real estate, and recruitment, guarantee help to businesses across the area. The organisation runs periodic, specified events to offer a view into the different industries in Berlin and connect businesses with Berlin’s existing base of enterprises.

The steps taken to support Berlin’s business community during the pandemic have been an example of what organisations can do to support investments at this difficult time. The government has launched a matching facility for private investors, such as venture capitalists and angel investors, to mirror the investment amount by government funds.

Runner-up: New York City Economic Development Corporation

NYCEDC has placed joint runner-up in the award for Best Aftercare. NYCEDC works to retain investors by cutting bureaucratic barriers and providing investors with a one-stop-shop where they can access the agency’s full range of services.

To keep companies in New York, and to help them grow, the NYCEDC offers a scaled approach to assisting businesses, based on the business’s size and sector, providing initiatives ranging from seminars and events, and helping businesses grow their existing network, to assisting with office space and financial grants.

The Small Business Resource Network in New York has been assisting small businesses by providing them with personalised information and guidance. The network uses its connections in public and private spheres as well as those in academic institutions to offer marketing and financial guidance, tech support, legal counsel, and ongoing business support.

Runner-up: City of Mississauga, Canada

The city of Mississauga placed as the joint runner-up in the Best Aftercare awards, after catching the judges’ attention with their forward approach to dealing with the pandemic. Not only did they redevelop their systems to appropriately deal with the influx of issues they expected, they also created a portal to help direct businesses to the initiatives and recovery tools available to them.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the city has seen 234 companies ask queries in relation to issues linked to the Covid-19 crisis. While dealing with these issues, the city has also been providing outbound advisory services. Overall, they have provided almost as many outbound services (214) as they have received. These services have helped deal with difficulties faced by investors and the wider business community.

Mississauga also elected to reach out to businesses, engaging them directly by organising roundtables to discuss the issues that Covid-19 would cause, the guidelines that the city was going to put in place, and the practical things businesses could do going forwards.

Actions taken by the city of Mississauga have no doubt helped to guide businesses towards effective and meaningful incentives and programmes that will have both mitigated the issues caused by the pandemic, while also helping businesses to survive and operate into the future.

Best ESG practices

2021 Strategy Awards Best ESG

Winner: New York City Economic Development Corporation

The Best Environmental, Social and Governance/Sustainability award has been won by NYCEDC. In 2018, New York became the first major US city to pledge divestment from fossil fuels, announcing this with the news that an estimated $4bn in pension funds would be divested from portfolios related to fossil fuels.

The Lower Manhattan Climate Resilience Study, led by the NYCEDC, found that by 2050, 37% of buildings in the Lower Manhattan area will be at risk of storm surges, with 20% of the streets being at risk of daily flooding. To mitigate the impacts made by climate change, they have launched initiatives to protect assets such as buildings, energy systems and telecommunication networks from the risk of extreme weather events, while also investing $500m into the protection of the Lower Manhattan coastline, permanently adapting the area.

Since then, the city has followed up this step with making good governance and the equality of its citizens a cornerstone of their other investments. One key piece of evidence for this was the city launching their ‘Urban Tech Hub @ Company’ — a large space provided below market rates that was specially built to support and advance the entrepreneurs seeking to address the city’s challenges in key public needs, such as water, energy, waste and transportation.

NYCEDC’s mission is for New York to experience inclusive, innovative and economic growth with people and businesses at the heart of it. It works with community leaders and those in office across the city to deliver on this promise to strengthen the city’s competitive position and facilitate investments that help to cultivate dynamic, resilient and liveable communities.

Runner-up: Investment and Tourism Agency of Riga

The runner-up for our award in Best ESG practices award is the Investment and Tourism Agency of Riga. With 200 of the world’s nations agreeing to the Glasgow Climate Pact driving short term reduction of emissions to limit temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the Latvian city has already acted by being a part of the ‘Initiative 100’, a group of cities committed to becoming climate neutral by the year 2030. 

The Investment and Tourism Agency of Riga has worked with stakeholders across the city to create the ‘Future Hub’ — an accelerator seeking to benefit businesses, as well as the green-tech ecosystem at large, with the goal of creating a sustainable living environment. It also saw the Riga Technical University create the Green Industry Innovation Centre’, which will provide financial support and aims to ensure knowledge exchanges between private and academic institutions.

The next steps taken by the local powers have been to make Riga and the wider municipality a smart and sustainable location for its inhabitants. To achieve the former, they have established a ‘Smart City Working Group’, which encourages communication between the public and private sectors around smart-city technologies. Riga city council followed this by approving three territories in which smart-city technology can be tested by both entrepreneurs and academia with municipal support.

The actions taken by the Investment and Tourism agency of Riga, as well as the municipal government, will help Riga to foster an environment that not only assists new investments growth, but also encourages mutual beneficial co-operation, helping businesses and the green ecosystem make strides towards the city’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2030.

fDi’s choice

For the fDi Choice section, our internal judges reviewed the winning entities from the Global Cities of the Future, African Tech Ecosystems, American Cities of the Future, and Tech Cities of the Future awards.

The following awards have been given to the locations that fDi’s judges believed stood out, either for their performance in specific sectors, or having excelled within a distinct foreign investment specialism.

Specialism awards

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Advanced manufacturing

Winner: Greater Zürich Area AG

As the financial capital of Switzerland, Greater Zürich has a strong concentration of advanced manufacturing businesses. Mixed with the city’s robotics and intelligent systems clusters, this suggests that the location will be an attractive centre for high-tech manufacturing.

Business-friendly, stable and an existing hub for financial activity, the area attracts and retains investment into industry 4.0 for businesses operating in sectors such as additive manufacturing, sensor technologies and automation.

Artificial intelligence

Winner: Montreal International

Montreal International strategically plans to position itself as a location with an ability to attract influential and innovative companies. Having the highest concentration of tech-sector jobs of any Canadian city, Montreal has strengthened its position by expanding the number of researchers and graduates at its deep learning and reinforcement institution, Mila, by 20% within the last 12 months. 

With investment from the public and private sector totalling more than $3bn since 2016, the location has seen benefits from this as companies with plans to research into artificial intelligence, such as Google, Microsoft, Element AI, and Facebook (now Meta), choosing to set up in Montreal.

Cleantech

Winner: Berlin Partner 

With the recent commitments made at COP26, clean technologies are at the front of the minds of those in the business and political world. Investors considering the cleantech industry will see the 4500 companies and 50,000 people already operating in the energy and clean technology sectors within Berlin as very inviting. Not only does the city have its existing clean technology network, it also has access to the research facilities such as the European Reference Organisation for Quality Assured Breast Screening and Diagnostic Services campus and the Park Adlershof.

Creative industries

Winner: Montreal International

Creative industries are estimated to be worth more than $50bn to the Canadian economy, with Montreal capturing a fair share of this estimation. Video game companies, such as Ubisoft, Gameloft, EA and Warner Brothers, along with a growing number of independent developers, employ more than 15,000 employees in the Quebec province.

Montreal is also home to the highest concentration of visual effects businesses in Canada, hosting companies such as Cinesite, Digital Dimension and Double Negative.

Cyber security

Winner: London & Partners

Not only does London account for roughly one-third of the UK’s cyber security roles, it also houses four universities with recognition of their excellence in cyber security research. These two reasons help London to contribute more than its fair share to an industry the UK government estimates to be worth £8.9bn to the economy.

The amount of stored data in the world is thought to be doubling every four years, increasing the need for better cyber security. In 2020, London attracted the most venture capital funding into cyber security across all of Europe. This, partnered with the city’s existing cyber security workforce, makes it a more than appealing location for any investors looking at the UK capital.

EdTech

Winner: Department of investment and industrial climate of Moscow (The Moscow City Investment)

Most likely driven by the Covid-19 pandemic, Moscow has seen the benefit of booming demand for their local educational technology (edtech) companies, attracting around $77m in investment in 2020 — a seven-fold increase on 2019.

By providing effective tools, such as interactive academic materials, managing the academic process and other online education services, Moscow’s edtech companies will likely continue to see the benefits of remote education and the transition to the remote work environment.

Energy 2.0

Winner: Greater Houston Partnership

Houston plans to put itself in a unique position as world market leader as we move towards clean, efficient and sustainable energy.

The combination of its leadership in the energy sector; attraction of digital technology companies and cleantech start-ups; and major investments from energy companies and venture capital investments has created a unique value proposition to investors.

E-platforms 

Winner: InvestKL

In Malaysia, the growth of e-platforms has primarily been driven by the young adult segment of the population. The increasing demand has resulted in the country's e-commerce sector being expected to grow at a rate of 17% per annum.

The local e-commerce businesses that lead the way in Malaysia have chosen Kuala Lumpur as their location for regional headquarters thanks to the policies and frameworks set in place by the local government.

Fintech

Winners: Belfast City Council; IT Industry Development Agency of Cairo

The award for fintech has been shared between Belfast City Council and IT Industry Development Agency of Cairo.

Belfast stands out for its concentration of 40,000 employees working in the fintech sector, as well as the presence of global fintech companies such as PwC, Allstate and Liberty Mutual.

Cairo has also stood out after seeing its first fintech ‘unicorn’ in recent years, the Fawry e-payments platform. It has also seen large investment into the fintech sector with a swath of businesses receiving millions in dollars’ worth of funding.

Life sciences

Winners: New York City Economic Development Corporation; Greater Houston Partnership

The judges praised New York and Houston as outstanding locations for their specialism in promoting growth in the life sciences sector. 

The New York metro area has the largest concentration of academic institutions, and is home to the largest bioscience workforce across the US. The city follows this with its $500m funding towards supporting the sector, as well as the creation of new lab spaces across the city.

Houston has been highlighted, given that it is host to the largest medical complex in the world and 1900 life-science companies. The Texas Medical Centre nurtures collaboration, creativity and innovation in the area, not without thanks to its Innovation Institute.

Research and development

Winner: Invest Hong Kong

Hong Kong demonstrated a wide-ranging plan to encourage research and development investments in the city, with the implementation of various clusters, research funds, incubators and incentives in the form of super tax breaks. The agency also held various study missions and is well-connected globally, as it looks to benefit as a knowledge-sharing hub between the East and West.

Smart City Tech

Winner: Catalonia Trade & Investment

Barcelona and the wider Catalonia region are home to more than 270 ‘Smart City’ companies — companies that are tasked with the development of products and services that improve the lives of those living in the area. From smart lighting to waste management, these companies employ an estimated 116,000 people and generate revenue of roughly $8.2bn.

Bespoke awards

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Covid-19 response

Winners: City of Mississauga, Canada; City of Surrey, Canada

The Covid-19 pandemic response has been of major importance to the protection of investment and businesses around the world, but the Canadian cities of Mississauga and Surrey stand out in particular.

The city of Mississauga implemented a case-management system at the onset of the pandemic to track the issues coming from local companies. This, as well as the outbound advisory service that was provided, ensured businesses received as much information as possible at a time when it was most important.

The city of Surrey also showed how locations could respond to the pandemic and even begin to thrive. The ‘Surrey Makes PPE’ programme attracted investment and helped to protect jobs and revenues in the area. The city’s approach to protecting business was also shown by their attention to problems found by their Covid impact surveys, as well as the virtual adaptation of their business visits and events.

Digital media

Winner: Berlin Partner

Berlin Partner has done extensive work to increase the digital visibility of the city, from social media campaigns to creating a flagship jobs site that attracts international talent. The agency has also given investors the chance to experience the city digitally, with the ‘Economic Atlas Berlin’ giving them a realistic, large-scaled model of the city.

Drone technology development

Winners: Wesgro; Kigali Innovation City; Investment and Tourism Agency of Riga

The capabilities of drone technology are continuously expanding. Wesgro in Cape Town, South Africa, has seen start-ups expand their horizons and use drones in farming, gaining deeper insights on yield, and land usage across continental borders in Africa, North America, Europe and east Asia. 

Kigali, Rwanda, has also seen a company expand its drone operations recently, with Zipline, a commercial drone company that transports medical necessities, becoming its first company valued at $1bn. They are not, however, the only drone company in the Rwandan capital city; Charis UAS has also received funding showing that the climate for these types of companies is more than hospitable in Rwanda.

Riga, Latvia, has also pursued active development of drones in the location, enacting special legislation for companies that are testing early stage tech. The country’s outstanding internet coverage was also a factor in them being a partner in the first cross-border drone flight conducted over a mobile network.

Future start-up ecosystem

Winner: IT Industry Development Agency, Cairo

Cairo has seen a surge in growth of successful start-ups in recent years. One of the fastest growing locations for start-ups in the world, the city has nurtured growth of start-ups thanks support in terms of non-equity funding, networking and community events, as well as giving them access to working space.

Infrastructure developments

Winner: Kigali Innovation City; Bahrain Economic Development Board

The development of infrastructure is still important to the success of economic and business growth. In Bahrain, the investment has gone into an array of areas, increasing the capacity of airports by 75%, multi-billion-dollar investments into transport works, as well as huge investment into real estate with focus on medical and education sectors.

In Rwanda, digital infrastructure has been a major investment. The 4G network covers an estimated 95% of the country, which helps the Kigali Innovation City (KIC) foster growth of high-tech innovation. Beyond this they have also set up a range of organisations to assist start-ups.

Flexibility and resilience

Winner: Greater Houston Partnership

With the world focused on pivoting to the use of renewable energy sources, our four judges were impressed by Houston’s ability to adapt and change itself from being a home to a cluster for fossil fuels into one that promotes renewable energy as well as carbon reduction technology.

Skills development

Winner: Cinde 

Skills development at Cinde, the national investment promotion agency of Costa Rica, has long been a priority. The agency worked to create 50,000 scholarships for those who lost their jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as providing personalised talent development for skills in areas such as tech, software, and language skills.

Slogan

Winners: Cinde, Costa Rica; Montreal International

The slogans from Cinde and Montreal International stood out to our judges more than any others.

For Cinde, “Invest with Purpose: A breathing hub for life-centred solutions based on planet, people and prosperity to reach sustainable productivity” is forward thinking, and does an excellent job at distilling the sustainable goals built into their strategic plans.

Montreal International impressed with its short and to-the-point slogan: “Greater Montreal, Greater Success”.

Staff training

Winner: Bahrain Economic Development Board

Promoting a learning culture is important and will often pay for itself and more. The Bahrain Economic Development Board has placed a high value on this with its talent management system built to encourage a high-performance, learning culture. Its strategic approach, with focus on a range of areas such as technical, business and leadership skills, was a standout approach for our judges.

Talent attraction initiative

Winner: Invest Hong Kong

In January 2020, the Hong Kong government launched its Technology Talent Admission Scheme, helping tech companies to attract skilled employees for targeted technology areas. This is backed by the $500m pledged to train and pool talent as well as investing HK$3bn ($384.81m) into research that will make Hong Kong an enticing area for employees and investors.

This article was first published in the December 2021 / January 2022 edition of fDi Magazine. Read the online edition here.