The megatrend forecasters are all pointing to is the huge importance of cities for future global economic growth. They predict that much of this activity is going to be in fast-growing cities in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and most of the cities of Europe could be left behind in the race for economic development. So what can Europe's urban centres do to stay in the game? 

Securing new trading partners in the future growth markets is certainly a good step forward.  European cities are now realising the economic benefits of linking up with other cities across the globe. This is bringing an added depth to traditional city twinning activity. Instead of a few swap visits by mayors and other city dignitaries, it is getting much more commercial, fostering both inward and outward investment flows. The Council of European Municipalities and Regions has identified 33,668 twinning links from the 27 countries of the EU, France being the most prolific with 6604 links. 

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In their city partnering strategies some are going for the 'lots-of-friends' approach; for example, Linz in Austria is twinned with 22 other cities. Others are being more selective, focusing on a few. One example of the latter type is Cork in south-west Ireland. With a metropolitan population of 500,000, Cork is partnered with six cities around the world, two of which happen to be San Francisco in the US, with a metro population of 4.3 million and a gateway to Silicon Valley; and Shanghai in China, the largest city in the world with a metro population of 23.7 million. 

Cities need to be smart about whom they link up with, and my recommendation is to be like Cork in order to get access to the biggest and best in the world.                

Douglas Clark is a director of Location Connections, a site selection and FDI consultancy.

Email: douglas@locationconnections.com