Europe's capital cities do tend to hog the headlines. Granted, there are usually more people in them, generating more stories, and it is where governments, politicians and news media mix it up in their bubble. But, for me, Europe is all about the second- and third-tier cities, where most of us come from, and where great things are happening that you seldom hear about.

While there are 23 cities in the EU with populations of greater than 1 million, there are another 322 cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants. And 56% of the European urban population lives in small and medium-sized cities and towns of between 5000 and 100,000 people.


Second-tier cities are important contributors to their respective national economies. Research by the UK's Liverpool John Moore University has identified that 12 of the 28 most powerful economic cities in Europe are second tier. They are clever, too, with analysis of European Patent Office figures showing that the top seven cities in Europe for patent applications are all second-tier cities.

The small and medium-sized cities should not be ignored by companies looking for a great place to do business. They offer a more human scale, making it easier to get around and to meet the right people; they often have lower operating costs and a higher quality of life. From the perspective of innovation and talented people, examples such as Munich in Germany, Cork in Ireland, Grenoble in France, Tampere in Finland, Eindhoven in the Netherlands, Wroclaw in Poland, and Cambridge and Reading in the UK are punching way above their size. Many of the big names in technology are thriving in these cities.     

One of Europe’s major assets is its cities, and while we need to respect our capital cities, we need to be polycentric in our view and acknowledge the many other great cities supporting Europe’s exciting urban dynamic.     

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