On consulting firm A.T. Kearney’s 2014 Global Cities Index, we were surprised to see that number of sister cities accounted for 2.55% of a city’s total score — with Shanghai leading in this metric with 64 sister cities, followed by Istanbul with 61 and Moscow with 59.
So why do sister cities actually matter? First, there are cultural links.
“[A sister city] creates opportunity for citizens and also city officials to experience and explore other cultures, and it stimulates an environment for communities around the globe to learn and share experiences that further advance their cultural integration,” the report’s co-author, Andres Mendoz Pena, told BI.
Second, there are business connections.
“It’s a global world now and the more relationships you have throughout the world the more productive and prosperous a community can be, because trade is not just done at the federal level anymore, trade can be done in Hot Springs, Arkansas or it can be done in Chicago or San Francisco or Lakeland, Florida,” Sister Cities International president and CEO Mary Kane said.
In the U.S., 522 cities have a total of 2,012 partnerships with sister cities in 143 countries, according to Kane.
Cultural links include Charleston, South Carolina’s cooperation with Spoleto, Italy to host the 17-day Spoleto Festival USA. That popular performing arts festival — which features opera, dance, orchestra music, and jazz — brings in $US30 million per year to the Charleston area, Kane said.
Business links include how a tiny engineering company in Lakeland, Florida signed a $US1.3 billion deal to design a theme park for its sister city in China. That deal, in turn, will let the engineering company invest more in Lakeland.
“It took a couple visits, it took getting to know people,” Kane told Business Insider, “but think about that 22-person engineering company in Lakeland, Florida — they were quite enthusiastic when they were able to sign that contract.”
Sister cities can also bring jobs to a community, in addition to lucrative contracts like the one the Lakeland engineering firm landed. San Antonio, for example, became home to a Toyota manufacturing plant thanks to its relationship with its Japanese sister city Kumamoto.
China’s president Xi Jinping famously developed a relationship with a bunch of Iowa farmers after visiting Muscatine, Iowa as part of a sister city delegation in 1985. In 2012, Jinping revisited that city to reconnect with the farmers he had met years ago.
“Throughout the world a lot of business is done because you have personal relationships, and people are more apt to trust people and what they do and say if they have that personal relationship,” Kane said.
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