Sister cities: A Wirral-wind of economic possibility
Wirral is the ninth-largest metropolitan district in the UK, located on the river Mersey halfway between Liverpool and Chester, with a population of about 320,000. Like Reno, another river city, Wirral is a place that had been over-reliant on a tourism base, previously mired in the Great Recession. It’s now positioned for a technology boom, being just a couple of hours away from the hot technology start-up community that has emerged in London over the past decade.
Phil Davies, leader of the Wirral Council (a position equivalent to a city mayor in the U.S.) on his second visit to the Biggest Little City in the World, puts the synergies this way: “We’re in similar situations in that London in the south of England is overheating like your Silicon Valley and companies are looking to our northwestern region because property prices and taxes are lower and the quality of life is greater.”
Wirral and Reno are now what is known as Sister Cities. According to the non-profit Sister Cities International, a sister city relationship is “a broad-based, long-term partnership between two communities in two countries. A sister city relationship is officially recognized after the highest elected or appointed official from both communities sign off on an agreement.
Davies recently made his second trip to Reno to meet with city officials and execute such an agreement, which the British quaintly call “twinning.”
The most successful sister city partnerships are forged between places that have commonalities — sharing similar cultural festivals, types of populations, industries or geography. In theory, these agreements can be incredible assets in furthering a city’s mission.
Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve sees a lot of resonance between the communities.
“We share similar aspects of our business environment and opportunity in this big (economic) turnaround we are experiencing. I’m excited about this partnership because, truly, they are doing great things, we’re doing great things and we think it’s a perfect fit.”
She sees a big opportunity for Reno in Wirral’s aspiration to provide an opening in the U.S. market for its successful businesses looking to go international. Reno’s position as a distribution hub to the 50-plus million consumers on the West Coast and access to ports serving the Pacific Rim has businesses from the U.K. planning international operations based here in northwest Nevada. According to Schieve, “We’re still assessing all the great opportunities. Another place where we are surely on the same page is in technology and data, worldwide connectivity and we are talking about partnerships at that level, which is exciting.”
Wirral Council Leader Davies agrees. “There are a whole range of economic assets that we have in common and I know of many companies in Wirral who are keen to come over to Reno and look at the opportunities to invest and be a part of a city that’s really growing and going places. We can have exchanges going the other way as well. This agreement is a catalyst that both cities can take advantage of.”
Davies sees three areas of opportunity to create a series of activities over the next 12 months to connect businesses in the two cities. “We have a big development site called Wirral Waters (a rough equivalent of our Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center)in which is prime development land ready for businesses, investors and development.
“I want to put a high priority on formal business exchange visits as a part of these activities in 2016. I’m really keen to build educational exchanges. I am also very impressed with the quality of academic excellence at your University of Nevada and the student experience there. The third thing is tourism and culture, which generates about 400 million pounds in annual economic activity for us. We have similarities and opportunities and I’d like to see exchanges around how we can learn from Reno’s promotion of cultural and tourism events. Those are the kinds of things I’d like to see rolled out over the next year or so. I just know that it’s just the start of a fantastic relationship between our two cities and we’re really excited about it.”
This creates opportunities for Reno that we have not seen for a long time, said Schieve, She added that Reno’s new city council has an opening to leverage the existing sister cities infrastructure to take advantage of these increasing opportunities. “As a community, Reno is becoming extremely attractive to businesses from across the world,” she said. “This is an important initiative for us, and we want to explore and make the most of it.”
The local business services firm called Landing Zone, which focuses on services to international firms looking at northwest Nevada, started the process a year ago with a trade mission that brought the Wirral Council to Reno to meet local representatives from the city, county, state and economic development authorities.
With the signing of the Wirral Sister Cities Agreement, Reno now has ten international sisters: Yellowknife, Canada; Hatzor, Israel; San Sebastian, Spain; Udon Thani, Thailand; Taichung, Taiwan; Shenzhen, China; Nalchik, Russia; Guadalupe, Mexico; and Nanhai, China.
“I point out many cases of where privately owned companies do just as bad a job as publicly owned companies,” says Reno resident and former teacher Robert (R.D.) Gardner.