Bert Pauli, Brabant's vice-governor for economic and international affairs, and Rob van Gijzel, mayor of Eindhoven

Speaking after fDi's European Cities and Regions of the Future 2014/15 awards ceremony, where the Dutch region of Brabant picked up a number of accolades, including recognition for overall investment potential, FDI strategy and human capital, a proud Bert Pauli, Brabant's vice-governor for economic and international affairs, says: “Knowing that we are heading in the right direction feels great."

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Rob van Gijzel, mayor of Eindhoven, Brabant's largest city, adds: “We are not at the finish line yet, but such accolades are like cheering during a marathon, and they give us a good push forward." It is an analogy drawn from experience as Mr Van Gijzel, a seasoned runner, has completed three marathons, in Beijing, New York and Amsterdam. He knows as well as anyone that completing the long-distance race requires perseverance and strategic planning, two attributes that were also needed to revive Brabant, which found itself in dire straits when its two largest employers, truck manufacturer DAF and electronics giant Philips, laid off employees in the region.

“We learned that we cannot count on production that does not add much value [to the region] and that we need to work together to survive,” says Mr Pauli. The solution was to introduce a triple-helix structure of co-operation between local governments, businesses and research institutions, as well as encouraging open innovation, an idea that promotes research and development partnerships between private companies.

Such an approach – not as easy to pull off as simply offering incentives such as tax breaks – pays off, according to Mr van Gijzel. “I visited Samsung's headquarters in South Korea and told [their managers] that they can participate in open innovation research on thin film. I could tell that they were thinking: 'This guy is weird. He asks us to share our research with others!' And yet, six months later, Samsung gave me a call and said that it wants to visit our city and learn more about it. Now it operates its biggest research premises outside of South Korea in Eindhoven,” he says.

Muslim Khuchiev, Chechen Republic's minister of economic, territorial development and trade

Far from the world of open innovation is the Chechen Republic, a North Caucasian entity within Russia, which in the 1990s struggled with a long and bloody war. However, Muslim Khuchiev, Chechen minister of economic, territorial development and trade, says that technological advancement is part of the post-war recovery effort.

“Our republic was one of the first in Russia to have access to a 4G network. And it is accessible not only in cities but also villages and mountain regions,” says Mr Khuchiev. “Places that for years did not have access to running water and power now have not only that, but also phone and internet access."

According to Mr Khuchiev, despite war-induced problems such as a shortage of skilled workers and graduates, Chechnya is pressing ahead with development and is on its way to recovering from years of conflict.

“The city of Grozny was covered in rubble just few years ago, now it is one of the prettiest, cleanest and safest [cities] in Russia,” says Mr Khuchiev, adding that one of the biggest tasks now is to bring visitors to Chechnya, so that they can experience for themselves the changes that have taken place. “The republic is changing, but we still have to put a lot of effort into convincing investors to come and see that we are not a war-torn or dangerous place anymore,” he says.

Peter Feldmann, mayor of Frankfurt

Given that Frankfurt is one of Europe's biggest airport hubs, the German city does not have difficulty attracting visitors. But, according to Peter Feldmann, the city's mayor, it still needs to look for ways to turn these occasional visitors into investors.

“Apart from the airport, we also have a big trade show industry. We check who visits us frequently and suggest that instead of coming here as exhibitors, their company should consider having a permanent presence in our city,” says Mr Feldmann. “This is a good filter to see who could potentially be interested in investing here, but also helps us to discover companies we might not have known about otherwise."

Frankfurt established itself as financial centre, and also has a significant life sciences cluster that includes industry giants such as Novartis, Sanofi-Aventis and Merck. What it is not commonly known for though is its tourist appeal, something that the city authorities are currently trying to change. “We are working with our sister cities such as Lyon, Dubai and Toronto on promoting that sector. Everybody knows Frankfurt for its financial services, but a short ride away from the city we have rivers, mountains and even a wine region,” says Mr Feldmann.

Joe Anderson, mayor of Liverpool

This year, the UK city of Liverpool will welcome company representatives and government officials from around the world when it plays host to the International Festival of Business 2014, a series of events taking place in June and July. One-hundred-and-fifty mayors have already agreed to attend and participate in a leaders’ forum, and Liverpool is rare among UK cities in having a mayor of its own to greet them.

Outside the capital city of London, few UK cities have directly elected mayors. But, in 2012, Liverpool City Council decided to adopt the elected-mayor executive structure and, in May 2012, Joe Anderson became Liverpool’s first elected mayor. He will serve a four-year term.

Mr Anderson, a Labour Party politician and former city council leader, insists that having an elected mayor is good for business. “I’m not elected by a group of politicians who selected me in a smoky room – I’ve been elected by the whole city. And I think I’ve got a mandate on behalf of the city to be the person who is solely responsible for delivering, and if something goes wrong, to be accountable and held to account. So I think there’s a fresh approach, a modern approach, and if it’s good enough for London, it’s good enough for other big cities, and for me, it’s good enough for Liverpool,” he says.  

“I’m confident that it’s already made a huge difference – businesses and the private sector are all pleased that we’ve chosen that form of governance because they know that if I have a meeting with them and I say things that get done in that regard, whether it’s a development opportunity or whether it’s an interest or a promise that I make, that I’ll deliver on that.”

Branimir Gvozdenovic, Montenegro's minister of sustainable development and tourism

Montenegro has not had difficulty convincing both visitors and investors to bet on its tourism industry. Since the country gained independence from Serbia in 2006, companies from countries as various as the United Arab Emirates, Canada and the UK have invested in the sector, according to greenfield investment monitor fDi Markets. According to Branimir Gvozdenovic, the Montenegrin minister of sustainable development and tourism, there are many reasons, other than the country's stunning coastline, why tourism-related FDI keeps on flowing to the country.
“We have very favourable taxes with corporate income tax set at 9%, our telecommunications system is very well developed and, importantly, we offer a safe and stable investment environment,” says Mr Gvozdenovic.

Despite the heavy influx of investment in the sector, Mr Gvozdenovic says that there are still many parts of the country that are unsaturated and thus suitable for future tourism investments.

“There are investment opportunities on the Ada Bojana island and Velika Plaza [both in the southern tip of the country], as well as in the mountains in the north of Montenegro,” says Mr Gvozdenovic. He adds that investments are welcome in these areas as long as they meet sustainability standards. “Five years ago we hired world-class masterplanners, so we can control construction in the country. We have a beautiful country and we want to keep it this way,” says Mr Gvozdenovic.

Sten Nordin, mayor of Stockholm

The city of Stockholm has positioned itself as a major European start-up hub, something that has helped it to attract investors. The Swedish capital is a home to a number of successful companies, including Spotify, a music streaming service, and Klarna, an e-commerce platform. According to the city's mayor, Sten Nordin, the entrepreneurial spirit of the city is embedded in its DNA. “Stockholm has a long tradition of stimulating innovation. After all, Alfred Nobel is from here,” he says.

Mr Nordin is quick to add, however, that it is not just the city's heritage that makes Stockholm an entrepreneur-friendly place. “When we plan new city districts, we ask ourselves, what they can add to the city development and start-up incubation,” he says. 

As an example he points to Hagastaden, a one-square-kilometre plot of land between Stockholm and the city of Solna, which is currently being developed into a life sciences cluster. By 2025, the area, which is located close to five universities, will be home to a university hospital, as well as 5000 new apartments and 50,000 new workplaces.

“Given the closeness of research institutions and the hospital, this will be [a great environment] for innovation,” says Mr Nordin.