"Despite the crisis in Spain, Barcelona is a city that scores positively in international markets"
Mateu Hernández is the General Director of Barcelona Global, an independent private association that is trying to make Barcelona one of the best cities in the world to attract talent and business activity. Its activities are similar to associations like Partnership for New York, Berlín & Partners and London & Partners, for example. Barcelona Global is made up of the main research centres in the city, prestigious professionals from the Catalan capital or related to it, and more than thirty of the most powerful and innovative companies in Barcelona.
Barcelona (CNA).- Mateu Hernández was the Director of the Economic Development Agency of the City of Barcelona. He was also executive vice president of Barcelona Activa (the development and economic promotion agency of the City Council), Mercabarna (the wholesale market of Barcelona), and also had executive responsibilities in the innovation district of the city, known as 22@. Nowadays he is the General Director of Barcelona Global, a private association that works to make Barcelona attractive to foreign talent and business activity. His activities are comparable to Partnership for New York, Berlín & Partners, London & Partners and other similar associations. Barcelona Global is made up of more than thirty of the most powerful companies in the city, although new and innovative companies that have just started also work on the project. It is also made up of the main research centres, and prestigious professionals from many economic sectors in Barcelona. All these professionals and companies are partners of the organisation and they participate in the decisions and in the implementation of the activities the association promotes.
One of your objectives is to attract talent and investment to Barcelona. How will you do that?
Barcelona Global presents four axes. The first one is \u2018Business friendly\u2019, because we are trying to make Barcelona an easy city to do business in. The second one is \u2018Landing in Barcelona\u2019, as we open the city to the foreign investor that arrives here. The third is \u2018Born in Barcelona\u2019, which aims to make access between the emerging talent of the city and the investors easier. And the fourth axis is the empowerment of Barcelona\u2019s brand internationally.
What is the image of Barcelona abroad?
Barcelona has a great international brand. It is a city that arouses interest, and that is a powerful international asset. Barcelona has a higher brand position that would normally correspond to its size and its global economic weight. But it also has its shortcomings. It is, for example, a city more known in Europe, South America and United States than in the emerging Asian countries. It is also a brand very much associated with leisure and tourism.
And is that good or bad for the city?
It is an important asset we have. But the challenge for Barcelona Global is to make Barcelona also known as an important centre for business, to set up companies, to attract talent and to carry out research. In Barcelona we have more assets than tourism. We have to value the fact that we are a powerful city in research, in entrepreneurship, in the industrial sector...
What are the attractions Barcelona has to boast?
Barcelona has demonstrated that it is a very attractive city in the field of research. We have a good position globally in biomedical research, in physics and in high-level economic research. It is also a powerful city in the food industry: there are a lot of multinationals established in Barcelona, it has a huge logistical platform (Mercabarna), the second biggest food fair in Europe and one of the first in the world (Alimentaria), an important port, and an innovative gastronomy that attracts a lot of people. It is also an important city in the automobile market, in design and creativity and, for the past five years, in mobile phone technology.
The international events most known by foreigners and locals are international fairs such as the \u2018Mobile World Congress\u2019 or the \u2018Barcelona Meeting Point\u2019. They are very much praised, but some people also criticise them. What is your opinion of these fairs?
The presence of these fairs and business tourism are one of Barcelona\u2019s great assets and one of its more important tools for international projection. When we say that Barcelona has a strong tourism sector, we have to remember two things: first of all, that tourism is not the most important sector in the city\u2019s economy; and secondly, that half of the tourists that come to Barcelona are businessmen attending fairs and congresses. And this second fact is very important. We have to be able to make these people come to Barcelona, not only to do business, but also to set up their companies here.
How is Barcelona positioned internationally in comparison with other cities in Spain?
Barcelona is, today, the best positioned city compared to other city-brands in Spain. It is also an economically sound city. Barcelona has done its homework on finance and budgets. It presents international solvency and it is also a city more associated with economical matters than other cities. In a context in which the Spain brand is in crisis, Barcelona is a brand that scores positively in international markets.
The crisis of the brand \u2018Spain\u2019 is affecting Barcelona?
Yes, a lot. It affects Barcelona less that other brands associated with Spain. But it is obvious that the crisis, not only in Spain, but in all Southern Europe, affects the Barcelona brand. Barcelona belongs to the South of Europe so, for international markets, it is the same as an Italian city, or a Portuguese or Greek city. This means that Barcelona has a question mark over it for the international markets, but it is much smaller than that of other cities in southern Europe.
Are the social conflicts caused by the economic crisis and the budget cuts, a problem for the city? Barcelona has sometimes been seen as a city in conflict\u2026
Barcelona is perceived as a pleasant, open and creative city. And, it is true; it is also associated with nonconformity. Not being conformist is a good asset for the city. Throughout its history, Barcelona has shown that it is a city that is never satisfied with what seems to be unfair. But obviously, violent images are not good for Barcelona.
And the Catalonia-Spain conflict is affecting the Barcelona brand?
Obviously. But Barcelona, as a city-brand, is powerful enough to withdraw from the Spain-Catalonia debate. Barcelona is associated with a lot of other things apart from this conflict.
It is said that the Barcelona brand is more powerful than the Catalonia brand. Is this true?
Yes, it is. In my point of view, the Barcelona brand is the Catalonia brand too. The Catalonia brand is very small, irrelevant or non-existent. That is not good or bad, it is a fact. Catalonia has a great asset in Barcelona, because it is a brand that generates empathy, a friendly attitude and interest. And it is necessary for Catalonia to endorse Barcelona\u2019s brand.
Does Barcelona Global have a political ideology?
In its statutes, our association defines that it is not a political entity and that it is absolutely independent. This independence is reinforced in our statutes, which say that we cannot receive public funding. Barcelona Global is an entity that bases its power on its independence from politics and partisanship, and in working only and exclusively for the Barcelona brand and Barcelona\u2019s competitiveness.
What relationship does Barcelona Global have with public institutions?
A very good one. We collaborate with Barcelona City Hall for the international promotion of the city and we have offered them our team of councillors\u2026
Who are these councillors?
The members of the \u2018Barcelona Global International Council\u2019 are prestigious professionals linked to Barcelona, but not necessary born in Barcelona. They live and work out of the city but are related to it. They are high-level managers in New York, Miami, Singapore, London, Berlin, Hong Kong, Zurich\u2026
Why is it that all the work you do comes out of the private sector?
The public sector is doing a great job. But international experience says that public-private cooperation is the key factor in the cities we have analysed, in the attraction of investment, in the promotion of the city, in making business there easier, in a better welcoming of international talent, \u2026
You are repeating the importance of Barcelona\u2019s brand a lot. What proposals do you offer to manage it?
We proposed, a long time ago, to the city hall that the protection of the brand through a specific agency, managed publicly and privately, would be a good idea. This agency would determine what the criteria are for the Barcelona brand to follow and for the companies and initiatives that would like to use the city\u2019s brand. The agency would also have to manage the brand according to values of quality and innovation.
Finally, what concepts would you associate with Barcelona today?
Openness, attractiveness, creativity, hard-working and drive.
And which ones do you think Barcelona has to achieve?
That of being perceived as a business city.