Bilbao’s global engagement and economic reach
Bilbao has a strong track record of engaging the global community. The construction of the Guggenheim Museum brought significant international attention to the city, but in this city of 350,000 residents, the city’s branding and global engagement efforts go far beyond this one building.
The city hosts several festivals throughout the year that showcase design, music and film, and which aim to connect Bilbao to international networks. Architecture is another important aspect of the city’s cultural motif. The city has completely altered its urban landscape with the redevelopment of the Abandoibarra area. Notable architecture includes the Iberdrola Tower, the University of Deusto Library and the Basque Public University Auditorium. It built the Euskalduna Palace and Music Center, fit for an audience of over 2,000. The city is also expanding its international airport to double its capacity by 2019, and improved internal mobility through the construction of a metro system.
As part of its global engagement, the city holds and participates in events and conferences that are targeted at the international community. Last year, the city hosted the World Cities Summit Mayors Forum in 2013, an annual convening for city mayors and leaders. Recently the Forum d’Avignon, which works to strengthen inks between cultural and economic issues on a global, European, and regional levels, was held in Bilbao.
In addition to holding international events, the city also performs exchanges with other cities and nations around the world. For example, a city delegation traveled to Mexico to discuss the use of sports to energize the public. City officials were invited to speak about Bilbao’s experience to an audience of Mexican officials. City officials have also traveled to India to visit several cities and promote Bilbao as a place for travel and events. Delegations from Asia, South America and Europe frequently visit Bilbao itself to learn from the city on aspects of its urban renewal. All these and more are showcased on the Bilbao International website.
It is therefore no accident that in their European Cities and Regions of the Future 2014/2015 outlook, the Financial Times ranked Bilbao fourth in the Southern European Cities list and ninth in the medium-sized European cities in overall business climate. For foreign direct investment, the city came in fourth for Southern European cities and seventh for medium-sized European cities.
An important step in the marketing and branding strategy was when the Basque Country as a whole joined forces with the city to promote Bilbao-Bizkaia throughout the world. The collaboration created a slogan, “Bilbao Bizkaia, Be Basque” along with a now-famous logo. Both elements shape a unique and innovative brand in the internationalization strategy of the city and the region to attract visitors, companies, investments, events and talent. It also works to boost an effective and efficient branding strategy to strengthen the Basque identity.
Nonetheless, it is important to note that Bilbao not only works to promote the global image of the city, but also strives to understand how the city can meaningfully learn from its international engagement. This is exactly the premise of the Bilbao Urban Innovation and Leadership Dialogues, which will convene 100 urban leaders in the city this June to not only learn from the Bilbao’s transformation, but also bring their own experiences to the discussion on sustainable and equitable urban transformation and global engagement.