At NLC Leadership Academy, City Leaders Focus on Competing in the Global Market

April 25, 2011
by Caitlin Geary 

More than 100 city leaders, representing 50 city, county and regional teams, met in Seattle last week with a common goal: to increase their communities' economic position in the global economy. During the three days of NLC's Leadership Academy on Local Economic Competitiveness, local leaders engaged with experts from all levels of government, academic and business sectors and a delegation of Chinese officials to strengthen trade relationships and learn strategies for attracting international investments to U.S. cities. 

The event provided leaders with a forum to discuss critical opportunities and challenges of foreign investment and international trade, directly tap new markets and sources of growth, network and discuss promising practices from various regions across the country. 

Throughout the event, one common sentiment seemed to resonate: we live in an increasingly globally connected world, and in order to succeed, local economic development must reflect this reality. 

Linda Dawson, executive director for economic and community development for Anderson, Ind., and Leadership Academy presenter, echoed these sentiments, "just because you're a city of less than a 100,000 doesn't mean you can't compete in the global market place," she said. The city, after losing its major employer, shifted its economic development focus abroad and created a five-year strategic plan to attract foreign direct investment. As a result of strategic, forward thinking, the city closed a deal to bring additional jobs and investment to the community of about 60,000 people. 

Other major themes that spanned the three days included: how to overcome political and economic risk; regional and private sector collaborations; the importance of a skilled workforce and education; cultural exchange with a business development focus; enabling cultural shifts; and building strategies based on community assets. 

Additionally, through a partnership with the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Treasury, U.S. city leaders exchanged ideas and networked with a delegation of 90 Chinese leaders and business executives who were looking to invest in U.S. communities. 

"Through investing in the United States, Chinese firms will promote their own development, and at the same time, spur economic growth and create jobs in U.S. cities and communities," said Tu Guangshao, vice mayor of Shanghai. 

The opening event, The U.S.-China Mayor's Policy Dialogue, set an early tone of mutual challenges, opportunities and goals of cities in both the U.S. and China. 

During the dialogue Chinese mayors and vice-mayors from Shanghai, Chongqing, Wuxi, Xi'An and Weifang, and U.S. mayors and city councilmembers from Kansas City, Mo., Salt Lake City, Seattle, Chattanooga, Tenn., Boston, Cambridge, Mass., and Oakland, Calif., exchanged ideas on economic development, sustainable growth, infrastructure, regionalism and innovation. 

Chinese and U.S. officials agreed that sustainability is a prerequisite for economic growth and that pursuing balanced development regionally is how cities will succeed in the future. 

Financing economic development and fostering entrepreneurship is also a common challenge that spans the globe. 

With these newly formed relationships and newly acquired skills, the U.S. leaders returned home with tangible strategies, resources and abilities to help their communities achieve economic prosperity. 

Most importantly, local leaders have begun to shift their thinking about economic development in order to achieve a global competitive advantage. 

Details: To learn more about the Leadership Academy or the Finance and Economic Development program in NLC's Center for Research and Innovation, contact Caitlin Geary at