Business Leadership in Barcelona: The Emergence of a new player

Rosemary-FeenanAuthor: Rosemary Feenan

City leadership is no longer just about Mayors and Councils. Wider stakeholders, from the private sector and academia to civic groups and not-for-profits are playing an increasingly important role in city development. One recent trend in city governance has been the rise of business leadership groups, including Barcelona Global.

Barcelona Global was founded in April 2008, with a stated mission “to actively contribute to making Barcelona one of the most attractive cities in the world for talent and business and a place where they can thrive”.[i] The group has more than 200 partners, who include some of the Catalan capital’s biggest businesses, such as Deloitte, Banco Sabadell, Abertis and Endesa, as well as individual business people like Isak Andic, President of the retail giant Mango.

In the latest economic cycle, Barcelona has struggled to develop a business brand of the same strength as its world-leading tourism brand. Barcelona Global seeks to address this gap by conceiving and implementing projects to enhance the city’s status as a globally competitive destination for business.

The association’s projects are based on four focal points for action:

(i) Business Friendly Barcelona – facilitating the development of business by driving  the creation of new companies or promoting the development of existing ones;

(ii) Internationally Attractive Barcelona – attracting talent to the city;

(iii) Barcelona Core Business – stimulating the branches of economic activity that generate the most employment or value, and improving competitiveness in these areas;

(v) Barcelona Brand – promoting Barcelona’s image as a world-class city in the fields of business, research, education and professional excellence.

Ongoing initiatives include ‘This Way Up’ – a project which aims to make Barcelona the European capital of entrepreneurship, and ‘Brand Barcelona’ – a collaborative initiative with the City Council to promote, protect and manage the city’s brand.  The association’s achievements to date include the development of the mobile phone application “Barcelona by Barcelonawhich aims to welcome the international community by showing them the city through the eyes of local citizens, including their inside tips on where to eat, drink and shop.

A fairly unique aspect of Barcelona Global’s organisation is its separate International Council – an international community of Barcelonans committed to promoting the image and prestige of the Catalan capital and identifying investment and business opportunities for the city abroad.

Barcelona Global is far from the sole representative of business interests in the governance landscape of cities.  Indeed, today business leadership organisations have become a driving force in almost all of the world’s most successful cities.  London First is a key player forging London’s development pathway, and the New York City Partnership plays a similar role in New York. Bombay First, World Business Chicago, Edinburgh Business Forum, the Committee for Sydney and Committee for Auckland are equivalent organisations. These groups are not only relevant to the world’s biggest and most globalized cities.  In Colombia, ProBarranquilla and ProAntioquia have been vital forces in city and regional development. Barcelona certainly has competition.


[i] Barcelona Global: Barcelona and its future

About the Author

Born and bred in Liverpool, Rosemary understood at an early age that cities have very distinct characters. As a town planner and market strategist her personal interest in what makes cities work, grew into a career and a passion. She is now an International Director and Head of JLL’s Cities Research Programme which she set up 12 years ago. Cities are constantly evolving, she says, models and urban personalities change, technology is always pushing forward and the choice of cities in which to invest, develop, shop and live continues to extend. Analysing, tracking and interpreting and anticipating the nature of the New World of Cities is as important as it is fascinating. Rosemary is a Trustee of the Urban Land Institute and serves on the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Cities.

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