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Cities expand horizons - globally.

"America's cities and towns, in order to prosper in the 21st century, must become truly international communities. The most successful will be closely connected to the rest of the world--through trade, transportation, technology, education, arts and culture."

"They will fully understand that the competition for markets and jobs is now genuinely global." So begins the soon to be released 1993 Futures Report on Cities in the Global Economy, authored by NLC's Advisory Council.

As if to reinforce this finding, commentator and columnist Neal Peirce, in his new book Citistates, paints a similar picture. "Across America and across the globe, citistates are emerging as a critical focus of economic activity, of governance, and of social organization for the 1990s and the century to come."

The appearance of these two reports seems timely, considering the current world economic condition. The debate surrounding the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), trade talks under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and the gyrations of the Tokyo stock market all are interconnected and have an impact on the economic health and future vitality of city and regional economies.

On behalf of its members, NLC has been building its capacity to inform and assist local leaders with the challenges presented by increased global economic competitiveness. Perhaps the most visible achievement to date is the 1993 Futures Report to be released at the Orlando Congress of Cities. The role of city officials in the broader global economy is likely to become the most critical factor driving the economic development plans for local governments over the next ten years.

Early International Awareness

NLC's focus on international issues began well before 1993. Back in 1984, NLC's International Economic Development Task Force, under the direction of former mayors Henry Cisneros and Andrew Young, published the report International Trade: A New City Economic Development Strategy. The report's recommendations were designed to foster international business development. |Most communities," the report said, "have businesses that produce export quality products. For local governments, the key factor is a willingness to develop an international awareness among local businesses, and to help them move into new foreign markets."

That early message has been heard by many communities. Today, cities and towns are redefining their economic development agendas so as not to be left behind in the global competition for jobs and investment. Magazines such as World Trade regularly publish their list of top ten international cities. NLC's own Futures Report identifies both large and small cities whose leaders will not allow their hometown to be isolated from the globalization process.

Consortium of Members Around International Issues

As an outgrowth of NLC's early investigation of global economic interdependence, the International Municipal Consortium was created in January 1992. The consortium is a member-based coalition in which city and town officials can share information and learn from each other about programs and activities in the areas of international trade and economic development, and educational and cultural exchange with local governments in other countries. Participation in the consortium is open to all city officials involved with NLC or the state municipal leagues.

Under the leadership of Mayor Larry Bakken, Golden Valley, Minn., the consortium planned and organized educational workshops for NLC members on topics such as NAFTA. At the Orlando Congress of Cities, the consortium will release a directory of city international programs and contacts and host a pre-conference workshop on international municipal cooperation. In 1994, the consortium will play an active role in helping to implement the recommendations outlined in the Futures Report.

Grant Funded Projects

In partnership with our sister organization the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), staff at NLC as well as US elected officials have been providing educational programs and technical assistance to local government officials in Central and Eastern Europe. Funding support for this initiative comes from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The municipal officials from Central and Eastern Europe are learning how US cities function. Issues range from taxing authority to economic development, and from strategic planning to contracting out services.

Future Focus

For cities and towns in the United States, the locus of international activities revolves around economics and cultural diversity. Activities related to cross-cultural learning and people-to-people contacts are growing and expanding into commercial and trade ties prompted by the global marketplace. As one of the founding partners that helped create the Sister Cities movement, NLC has an historic and unique role to play on behalf of American communities and the men and women who govern them.

Hometowns all across America are charting the future visions they have for their community.
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Author:Brookes, James
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Oct 11, 1993
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