Cities in Emerging Markets as Investment Meccas

Author: Joyce Coffee

I enjoyed great conversations last week with delegates and speakers from around the world at the first Chicago Forum on Global Cities, held in partnership with the Financial Times, and I hope it becomes an annual event. I drew three key takeaways from the three-day event:  

  1. Savvy investors again are snapping up opportunities in emerging markets again – including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s Albright Capital Management LLC; the Abraaj Group (which just committed US $30 million to the Auvest MENASAOpportunities Fund I L.P.; and Athena Financial Services, a holding company that licenses promising technologies in emerging economies. (Session: The Foreign Policy of Cities.)
  2. Global Cities may be places of inequity.

American author Richard Longworth, whose new e-book “On Global Cities” was released as part of the forum, received the money question: Can you be a global city and possess junk bond status (such as Chicago). His response: an unequivocal yes. What happens, he explained, is that as taxes rise to take care of a city’s financial issues, prices rise as well. That makes such cities islands of the wealthy and the working class gets pushed to the hinterlands. The major question becomes: While equity is seen as the heart of the new urban agenda where sustainable development goals replace millennium development goals, will these investors help global cities share the fruits of globalization with all of its citizens through job growth? (Sessions: Defining the Global City, The Foreign Policy of Cities.)  

  1. Big companies are bullish on cities and consider it their responsibility in part to create jobs there. In sessions “Global Cities Driving the Global Economy,” “Smart Cities: Data, Innovation, and Social Apps,” and “Emerging Economy Cities and Boom Towns,” such leaders as Siemens AG’s Pedro Miranda, the head of corporate development, noted that youth employment must be married with technology for global cities to thrive.

  MasterCard President and CEO Ajay Banga provided the most tweeted statement: "A global city is a city where even the rich use public transit" (rather than "even the poor have a car.")   Mark Hoplamazian, president and CEO of Hyatt Hotels, noted that tourism represents roughly 10 percent of global GDP and 275 million jobs, including many entry-level posts that do not require significant skills. He noted the importance of entry-level jobs in cities as rungs up the ladder and out of poverty.   As ND-GAIN grows from an exclusive country focus to embrace the global city, a clinching statement from Benjamin Barber, senior research scholar at The Graduate Center, proved especially noteworthy to me. He said, “Countries are monocultural and global cities are multicultural.” That seemed to be the prevailing sentiment that explains why cities are the first places where investors are looking for their next diamond find.