2002 International Study Mission to Barcelona – Trip Report

The Technology of Advancing.

2002 International Study Mission to Barcelona, Spain

May 3 – 11, 2002

Mission Diary

by Dick Lilly

I – Foundation for the Strategic Plan

It didn’t take long for the 75 participants in the Greater Seattle study mission to Barcelona early in May to start asking what made the Catalonian city in northeastern Spain work in ways that, nowadays, the Greater Seattle area can’t seem to manage. Members of the delegation were immediately impressed with how Barcelona’s leadership leveraged the 1992 Summer Olympic Games to expand the airport, transform the city’s waterfront, build a system of ring roads and almost overnight create a tourism industry that’s now 12 percent of the region’s GDP. But even more striking for the delegates were Barcelona’s current plans: expansion of the cruise ship and container ports, further expansion of the airport (with a third runway, no less!), redevelopment of almost 500 acres just blocks from the center of town into a high-tech business area, and reclamation of more Mediterranean beachfront in connection with development of a convention center and other facilities for an event they’ve dubbed the Universal Forum of Cultures. Created specifically as part of Barcelona’s economic development strategy, the forum is designed to bring more than five million visitors in 2004 to events focusing on cultural diversity, the future and sustainability of cities, and conditions for world peace. The redevelopment projects and program for the five-month forum will cost about $1.8 billion. Clearly, Barcelona thinks big. In contrast, study mission participants saw Seattle as mired in process, stuck in traffic, lacking in leadership and, currently, without a strategic plan for regional development.

Trade mission participants were quickly struck by Barcelona’s unity of vision. Every speaker – and this was true all week – understood in depth and was fully committed to the city’s strategic development plan. Everyone knew, accepted and was working toward Barcelona’s vision of itself as the center of a major economic region within the European Union. (It is already accepted that Barcelona plays this role within Spain.) Underlining the community’s broad adherence to this goal, labor leader Joan Coscubiela, general secretary of the Workers’ Commissions Trade Union of Catalonia, who spoke Thursday morning, was – surprising many of the Seattle delegation – one of the week’s most powerful adherents to Barcelona’s vision of regional competitiveness in Europe. Union bargaining includes an awareness of the “social salary” of health, education and welfare benefits provided by the state as well as the competitive position of companies, explained Coscubiela. The outcome is balanced, “our model of social and economic efficiency,” which contributes to Barcelona’s competitive edge. “Catalonia will be an economic engine for all of Europe,” said Coscubiela, stating the vision heard from Barcelona’s leaders all week.

A second factor underlying Barcelona’s vision of the metropolitan area’s future, quickly apparent to study mission participants, was the self-conscious awareness by all speakers that the history of Barcelona and Catalonia has contributed to – perhaps, in fact, defined – the region’s drive for identity and independence, first within Spain and now through regional economic development, in the European Union. The most general of these factors is language. Catalan is not Spanish. It is a separate Romance language related to Spanish, French and Rumanian. Indeed, Catalonia, is a “stateless nation,” as Sam Abrams, an American writer and professor living in Catalonia told the group. But it is not separatist. “We must maintain our identity within this framework of Spain,” said the Hon. Jordi Pujol, President of Catalonia, who hosted the delegation Tuesday evening, and spoke movingly about leadership through the dark years of the Franco dictatorship when he was, for a time, jailed. Catalonians are, therefore, a distinct people, comfortable asserting their uniqueness and strength through economic development. (“We must combine globalization with our identity,” said Pujol.) The growing view of the world as a place of strong economic regions surrounding powerful cities, a view which blurs national boundaries and appears to reduce the role of nation-states, particularly in Europe, suits Catalonians just fine.

Catalonia’s long history – Barcelona is about 2,000 years old – also provides significant support for the community’s current economic development vision. In the 13th and 14th centuries, Barcelona was the home of a trading empire that dominated the western Mediterranean and claimed outposts as far east as Greece. Closer in time and much more significant, alone among Spanish cities Barcelona became a manufacturing center during the Industrial Revolution, leaving a legacy of prosperity and growth tied to economic development. The city began expanding into the Eixample, now two-thirds of the densely settled core, beginning in 1860 shortly after the gothic walls were demolished. Barcelona, unlike cities which did not industrialize, entered the 20th Century with a thriving middle class, a key to economic development, said Pujol.

Putting it in numbers, the delegation frequently heard this summary: Catalonia has 6 percent of Spain’s land, 16 percent of the population but 20 percent of the GDP, 25 percent of the industrial GDP, and produces or handles 28 percent of Spain’s exports. (And, by the way, Catalonians account for 35 percent of Microsoft’s sales in Spain, said Antoni Gurguí, director general of industry for the Catalonian regional government.)

More recent events have drawn upon both the Catalonian national character and Barcelona’s commercial and industrial past as building blocks for a 21st Century economic development strategy. First among these was Franco’s death in 1975 and the restoration of democracy in Spain in 1977. The end of the Franco dictatorship simultaneously released Catalonia from totalitarian repression of its nationalism and the strait jacket of a clumsy planned economy. Madrid was no longer absolutely in charge (though rivalry with Madrid remains a great motivator for Catalans). Barcelona had to be recognized for its strengths; the central government now had to negotiate with its provinces, and Catalonians, as the Greater Seattle mission learned, self-consciously see themselves as great negotiators, able to find consensus whenever it’s needed. Barely a decade later (1986), Spain joined the European Economic Community and as far back as the early 1980′s Barcelona’s leaders began looking for a way to announce what they clearly viewed as their arrival on the new world economic playing field. Typically, it seems, they thought big. Hosting the 1992 Summer Olympic Games was the answer and they were making bid plans even before Spain entered the EU. “The most important marketing campaign a city could have is to host the Olympic Games,” said Oriol Balaguer, director general of Barcelona Activa, the city government’s development arm.

II – The Olympic Games as Springboard

Led by then-mayor Pasqual Maragall, Barcelona staged the Olympics with a plan, at the time unprecedented, to use the games as a catalyst for local economic development. (Since then other cities have adopted this strategy.) Among the elements were waterfront urban renewal including the complete removal of remaining 19th Century railroad yards and industrial buildings cutting the city off from the seafront, construction of a system of ring roads, partially tunneled, to bring vehicles to the waterfront, a first expansion of the airport, doubling of the number of hotel beds and creation of new port facilities that have now pushed Barcelona to the top of the list of Mediterranean cruise ship centers with 600 sailings annually. (Seattle will reach about 80 sailings this year, thanks to the growing Alaska market, said M.R. Dinsmore, Port of Seattle CEO, who was among the study mission delegates.) “We were pursuing not the games, but the change of the city,” said the Hon. Joan Clos, Barcelona’s mayor and a protégé of Maragall’s.

Also crucial, Maragall and his associates decided early on that the Olympics would be only a beginning, part of a long-range economic development plan, not, as has so often happened with other cities, a one-shot deal that’s over once the tourist dollars reach the bank. Almost immediately following the Olympics, Barcelona began planning other ways, often driven by events, to develop local infrastructure, enrich regional economic sectors such as tourism, and promote itself to world markets. Most ambitious among these efforts is the Universal Forum of Cultures planned for 2004. Stunningly, it’s an event Barcelona has created entirely to advance the economic development plan and promote the city in the eyes of the world. Nothing on the scale of the Universal Forum has been tried anywhere before. Building the 16,000-seat convention center for the forum also will allow Barcelona to redevelop the Mediterranean beach front immediately northeast of the area successfully reclaimed in advance of the Olympics. The forum is a promotion Barcelona’s leadership hopes will bring more than five million visitors in 2004 to events focusing on cultural diversity, the future and sustainability of cities, and conditions for world peace. Meanwhile, Barcelona has promoted itself with annual themes, mostly directed at tourism. For example, this is the Year of Gaudí, marking the 150th anniversary of the unique architect’s birth.

There remains enough vagueness about the forum’s content and how it would attract visitors and participants to leave members of the Greater Seattle study mission a little skeptical. But there is nothing vague about the development and redevelopment plans for the area around the new convention center, or for expansion of the port and the airport’s third runway, commitments totaling several billions of dollars. For the Greater Seattle group, the question was, “Where do they get the money?” From a variety of sources is the answer, beginning with local tax money (the highest city taxes in Spain) and working up through regional, national government, EU contributions and public-private partnerships. (Looking ahead, Barcelona’s leadership expects EU contributions to their development to drop off and then disappear over the next three to five years as less-developed Eastern European nations join the community.) The process was never fully or clearly described though, and Paul Rollins, manager of international banking for the Bank of America in Seattle, voiced a common thought when he suggested at the end of the week that future study missions include more detailed explanation of how public development capital is raised.

III – Consensus, “The Technology of Advancing”

By the second day, impressed by the consistency with which speakers described Barcelona’s economic development strategies and physical development plans, study mission participants were raising another key question that stayed prominent through the whole week: “How do they get all this done?” Where are the protesters, the lawsuits from community groups?

The explanation lies in the mercantile and industrial history of Barcelona, the aspirations and pride of Catalonians, and perhaps in a unique set of political tensions that make bargaining and compromise necessary. Barcelona city government, the Ajuntament, is socialist and has been in power for decades, reelected six times despite the high taxes needed for development, said Mayor Clos. Catalonia’s regional government, the Generalitat de Catalunya, is more conservative, gaining its legitimacy through its commitment to Catalonian “nationalism.” Third, there’s Madrid. The central government is no longer as absolutely powerful as it was under Franco, but the capital city is the nation’s financial hub and remains Barcelona’s major competitor for economic and social leadership in Spain. Indeed, both cities nowadays look north across the Pyranees to establish their roles in the EU. With this complex balance of forces, local leaders recognize that it takes consensus to move ahead, and they apply their business acumen to the creation of political consensus. “It [consensus] is the technology of advancing. . . It is in our blood,” said Clos, the mayor. “Let’s deal. When can we agree?”

Still, Greater Seattle delegation members wondered how citizens’ voices were heard and several, among them City Councilwoman Jan Drago, asked officials about it. The answer, given more than once, is that citizens buy into the economic development proposals made by Barcelona’s leadership. They support economic growth and believe their lives are improving. Underlying support for regional economic development is the indelible imprint of regional unity and sense of being special provided for Catalonia by language, a history of competitiveness with the rest of Spain, particularly Madrid, and resistance to Franco. Further, the region’s striking economic growth over the past quarter century has so improved standards of living – to a higher level than that of Spain as a whole – that there’s been nothing, particularly for the middle class, to suggest a change of course. And while there are vocal environmentalists, “people know what we are doing for the city and if we don’t do it, then perhaps they (business) will do it somewhere else – in Madrid,” said Clos, touching also on one of Catalonian’s competitive hot buttons. Additionally, the city’s leadership makes a tremendous effort to ensure that citizens see the connection between public expenditures and Barcelona’s quality of life and economic development, said Mario Rubert, director of foreign economic promotion for Barcelona Activa, the city’s development arm. And, Clos noted, since 1992 the Ajuntament has reduced city government employment from 16,000 to 12,000 – only slightly more than Seattle has now, though serving three times the population.

IV – Barcelona’s Two-Prong Strategy

Perhaps the largest part of Barcelona’s economic development strategy is to use major events, the 1992 Olympics and now the 2004 Universal Forum of Cultures, to drive the city’s physical development and promote Barcelona beyond Spain’s borders, to Europe and the world. Between these major events the city has picked themes, Gaudí this year, sports next year and the recent Joan Miró anniversary, among others, to keep the city’s name prominent in world tourism. At the same time, Barcelona has increasingly moved along a parallel track, picking a limited number – currently 11 – of strong or potentially strong economic sectors for development, through focused investment, and promotion. Many of these areas were the subjects of presentations made for the study mission. The list includes a combination of Barcelona’s existing strengths and emerging economic sectors, such as high tech and biotechnology, likely to create the jobs of the future. For example, Barcelona’s goal is “to produce a city that thinks strategically, a people that thinks always of the future,” said Francesc Santacana, general coordinator of the Metropolitan Strategic Plan of Barcelona, a private non-governmental organization with a broad membership including local government and private interests such as the Economic Circle. In its third update of the region’s strategic plan since the late 1980′s, Barcelona today seeks to be “a city of knowledge and creativity,” he said.

The Metropolitan Strategic Plan organization plays a key role in Barcelona’s economic development. It is the forum through which city government, other cities in the region, business and labor debate and develop their plan. It’s the table – or at least one of them – around which the leadership hammers out consensus on the regional development plan. The plan has evolved over time, of course, but it’s striking how clear and consistent in their vision Barcelona’s leaders have been. In the late 1980′s when the first plan was written, the mission statement, according to Santacana, was this: “To consolidate Barcelona as an enterprising European Metropolis, influential over its geographical macro-region, socially balanced, with a modern standard of living but deeply rooted in Mediterranean culture.” Today’s plan is very similar but more expansive, envisioning Barcelona as one of Europe’s leading economic regions in a global marketplace in which the leaders have grasped the importance of “knowledge industries.” Members of the study mission were acutely aware that no similar broad-based regional forum exists to focus leadership on current problems, such as transportation, or the Puget Sound Region’s economic future.

Importantly, in this second arm of Barcelona’s overall economic development strategy, each economic or activity center the city has chosen to develop has a governing or leadership organization responsible for coordination among the key organizations in the group and for making things happen. (Study mission participants noted that no such regional coordination within economic sectors currently exists in the Greater Seattle area.) It would appear equally important, and not really surprising, that the Barcelona City Council is a member of the leadership organization for every sector, apparently providing consistent leadership and creating a breadth and depth of public-private partnerships and interactions unimaginable in the Puget Sound region. The list includes:
1. Finance – including banks and the Barcelona Stock Exchange which handles 20 percent of all trades in Spain. Madrid is the acknowledged Spanish leader in this sector but Barcelona’s strength is important to ensuring investment in the region.
2. Freight logistics – expansion of the port and duty free areas for transshipment and distribution are the keys “To make Barcelona the main freight distribution center for southern Europe and the Mediterranean.”
3. Barcelona Medical Center – seeks to publicize, even to foreigners, the level of care available from a strong group of hospitals and research centers.
4. Barcelona University Center – organized to promote the region’s seven universities and two internationally-prominent business schools as an attraction for students from outside the area.
5. Barcelona Research Center – promotes the research-university community as an asset to business, just beginning to push technology transfer.
6. Real estate – promotes Barcelona as a top quality-for-price office space market.
7. Mediterranean Diet Development Foundation – promotes Mediterranean diet for its healthful qualities and, not incidentally, the marketing of local agricultural products including cava, the local sparkling wine produced using the champagne method and sold worldwide.
8. Barcelona Design Center – with the goal of making Barcelona one of the world capitals of design, able to assist any business ventures with design services.
9. Barcelona Sports Capitol – promotes local, regional and international events thanks to the stadiums and arenas built for the Olympics.
10. Environmental Forum Foundation – designed to raise environmental issues and sell Barcelona as a logical place for companies involved with environmental protection technologies.
11. Turisme de Barcelona – promotes tourism because even strong sectors need to maintain their competitive edge.

Some of the economic sectors Barcelona has chosen for development and promotion are much more prominent and receive much more investment than others. Currently, for example, huge investments (at least $2 billion over eight years) are being made in the Delta Plan to expand the port and its transportation links. The port, already equal to Seattle in container handling, will double in area, pushed into the sea on fill and reclaiming part of the Llobregat River delta. The river’s outlet into the Mediterranean will be moved more than a mile. Study mission participants were amazed at the size and environmental impact of the project, which by Seattle-area standards would doom anything like the Delta Plan to years of legal delay. (The plan has to meet European Union environmental standards and is described as improving habitat and water quality in the delta when it is complete.) Answering questions from the Greater Seattle group about environmental impact and potential opposition from environmental groups, Carmen Netzel, general coordinator of Barcelona Centre Logistic, touched quickly on two of the week’s themes, consensus and the region’s vision of economic development: “There has to be consensus,” she said. “There is no other way” because there is no other land (except reclaimed land) on which to develop, and she added, “There are powerful economic reasons to which even ecologists are also sensitive.”

V – Some Ideas for Action

Throughout the week, the Greater Seattle study mission heard (and saw, thanks to the ubiquity of Microsoft Power Point) presentations on the development strategies being used in many of the economic sectors highlighted in Barcelona’s strategic plan. At the week’s end debriefing session, those strategies sparked a number of suggestions for action here in the Puget Sound region:

  • Development of science parks, areas where business and university research communities could work closely together, facilitating both new-technology businesses and the transfer of technology from university research programs to business applications. “We should find our niche, technology, and get behind it,” said Bob Giles, managing partner for Perkins Coie.
  • City Council Member Jan Drago proposed a broad look “at the whole tourism sector including design and architecture as an economic development strategy,” an idea that fit nicely with others’ comments during the week that Seattle has not effectively promoted cultural tourism. “We have the assets, we don’t promote,” said Louie Richmond, president and CEO of Richmond Public Relations. Jane Zalutsky, president of One Reel, which has brought Teatro Zinzani back to Seattle, agreed. “Barcelona and Catalonia promote culture as part of their identities, which we don’t do so much in the U.S.,” said Deborah Glassman, public affairs officer in the consul general’s office.
  • Redevelopment of parts of the city and suburban areas for high-tech businesses on the model of “22@bcn,” the nearly 500-acre redevelopment of former industrial land for high-tech companies that Barcelona has undertaken. South Lake Union was mentioned as an area where this is already underway and could be further promoted. Tacoma is already promoting itself.
  • What about a Foundation for the Northwest Diet? wondered Richard Conlin, lifting the idea from Barcelona’s promotion of the Mediterranean diet. As Conlin observed, promoting the Northwest diet would build ties across the mountains to Eastern Washington. The state already is a significant exporter of agricultural products.
  • Alvin Kwiram, emeritus professor at the University of Washington who until recently led the UW’s technology transfer program, suggested a series of Seattle summer conferences on major national questions such as how children learn, and lifestyle and health.
  • Also, at week’s end and throughout the week, one heard study mission participants talk about the need to get moving on a regional transportation package that would finally move the Greater Seattle-area toward the kind of comprehensive, multi-modal transportation systems comparable metropolitan areas all have. (Barcelona’s avowed policy is to promote public rather than private transportation.)

VI – Does Promotion Work?

For an answer to the question “Does it work?” – an overwhelming “yes,” – the International Study Mission turned to Healey & Baker, European international business consultants who have for several years surveyed executives on what qualities they look for when planning to locate office or manufacturing facilities. “Certain cities are seen to be promoting themselves well. London, Dublin, Barcelona and Paris are seen by companies as the best,” according to the 2001 Healey & Baker report.

As study mission participants heard throughout the week, there are historical, cultural and geographic reasons why Barcelona has developed so dramatically in the last 25 years, but Monday presenters from Healey & Baker focused on one thing any city can do now: promote. “A city is a brand” and Barcelona knows this, said Martin Newman of the firm’s London office. “Using the brand of Barcelona helps them position themselves in the international market” – apparently with considerable success. Healey and Baker’s 2001 survey of 500 executives on the best cities in Europe to locate a business has Barcelona sixth, after heavyweights London, Paris, Frankfurt, Brussels and Amsterdam. The best results come when cities create a single, centralized, well-funded promotional agency, advised Newman, adding that, “The best cities invest more” in advertising and promotion.

One thing in Newman’s report on the Healey & Baker survey took mission delegates by surprise and several questions and comments indicated they found it hard to credit. Overall, according to Newman, “quality of life for employees” was considered an important factor by only 15 percent of the executives interviewed, and ranked 11th out of the 12 most essential qualities, way below such factors as easy access to markets (first, mentioned by 58 percent of respondents) and availability of qualified workers (second at 55 percent). The shock for the Greater Seattle delegation was because quality of life has long been considered one of the Greater Seattle area’s major advantages and figures prominently in regional promotions targeted at businesses.

In answer to questions about this, Newman suggested that quality of life works indirectly to produce “an ample supply of well-qualified people who live [in a particular city] because it’s a good place to live and work,” and the Greater Seattle delegation breathed easier. Barcelona, too, with its urban vibrancy, stunning architecture, relatively low cost and Pyrenees-to-Mediterranean outdoor recreation, heavily promotes its quality
of life.

Following easy access to markets and availability of qualified workers, Healey & Baker found that the other strong factors executives considered essential to business location were these (percent of 500 respondents who listed each item in parentheses): transportation links with other cities (51), quality of telecommunications (45), business climate governments create through taxation and the availability of financial incentives (32), labor costs (31), office space cost (29), and availability (27), ease of mobility within the city (22), quality of life for employees (15), and freedom from pollution (9).

But far beyond that, as evidenced by its standing in the Healey & Baker survey, the Seattle delegation learned that Barcelona has successfully developed a broad strategic approach to promoting and marketing itself internationally as a good place for business. “They use the press well,” said Alan Long, U.S. commercial consul, who spoke to the group Monday morning.

VI I – Barcelona’s Urban Form: Compact and Dense with Public Spaces

By American standards, of course, Barcelona is stunningly densely packed. It’s got the density, for example, of close-in Paris or London. But unlike those huge capitals it doesn’t seem to go on forever. The Mediterranean is at the foot of the main streets and the green hills (it was still spring) are not far off. One and a half million people live in the city proper, in an area somewhat smaller than Seattle. The metropolitan area houses about 4.2 million. The population of the region, Catalonia, one of 17 states in Spain, is about 6 million. At least 18 hours a day, the streets are crowded with pedestrians, particularly the central promenade, a series of streets known as Las Ramblas, renowned as one of the world’s great urban settings, vibrant with shops, cafes, street performers and people strolling because that’s where everybody is. “You’re not sure if it’s an oversized town or a big city. It’s comfortable, easy to move around in….There’s a homey feeling,” said Sam Abrams, the American writer.

Barcelona is a city of vibrant arts and ideas, too. There are five daily newspapers and 50 theaters, said Deborah Glassman, of the consular office. There are also 50 museums, the gothic center of the old city and, of course, the special character of Antoni Gaudí’s works and the other art nouveaux architects impart to the cityscape. There are seven public and three private universities, and, as the delegation learned, a fast-growing virtual university.

Like other large cities, especially European ones where cars are relatively new arrivals on the urban scene, congestion can bring Barcelona traffic to a halt nearly anywhere several times a day, relieved somewhat by a subway and network of commuter and inter-city rail lines. High-speed trains to Madrid and then to France will make their appearance in four or five years. The airport is barely 15 minutes from town. When not traveling by charter bus, members of the study mission found getting around on the subway easy and quick, prompting Doug Beighle, retired senior vice president of The Boeing Company, to remark that good transportation systems including subways were a hallmark of every city he’s visited on more than a half dozen TDA study missions. With the Puget Sound region facing do-or-die votes on transportation taxes this fall, the importance of transportation to the region’s continued economic growth was a topic that delegation members revisited throughout the week. “Walking and public transit are fundamental parts of their [Barcelona’s] life style,” said outgoing Trade Development Alliance Chair Tom Hartley, vice president of the international division of US Bank. That the people of Barcelona live, work and play in the same place leads to a compact urban form.

Making the city work for its citizens is one of the city government’s major roles. Often “small interventions,” as architect Federico Correa called them Monday afternoon in an echo of Seattle’s neighborhood matching fund philosophy, can have big effects. In Barcelona, for example, pocket parks featuring sometimes spectacular art works have been deliberately developed since the mid 1970′s. Expansion of bus and – because they already have a well-developed system – Barcelona’s subway can also proceed in incremental steps. All this, of course, under the guidance of a strategic plan that reaches upward through many levels including regional rail transportation and international bullet trains.

VIII – Problems the Region Faces

Despite its spectacular successes, study mission participants learned that the region – and Spain – face some tough problems for which solutions are still wanting. Chief among them:

  • The lowest birth rate in the world which means the country worried about its future workforce, ironically, despite one of the problem’s apparent causes: women joining the workforce.
  • Immigration, legal and illegal, which partly offsets the birth rate problem but creates others, particularly in the public schools which are called upon to integrate non-Spanish and non-Catalan speakers into the society and provide them skills so they are ready to enter the workforce.
  • Fears about personal safety, particularly in immigrant neighborhoods. (Study mission members were strongly warned about pickpockets in tourist areas.)

Catalonians “are afraid to address all the issues” in these areas, said Sam Abrams, the American writer, who spoke to the study mission on cultural issues Monday morning.
Nevertheless, a strong social safety net mitigates potential problems, according toe Barcelona’s leadership. Thanks to a “minimum pension,” “extreme poverty is not really a problem in our country,” said Clos, the mayor, in answer to a question posed by Tayloe Washburn, managing partner at Foster Pepper and Shefelman. Fifty percent of a family’s “purchasing power” is provided by the “social salary” of health, education and other welfare benefits, explained Joan Coscubiela, the labor leader, on another occasion.

One problem affecting Catalonia and Spain’s economic development popped up unexpectedly in a discussion about transportation and the hoped-for connection of Barcelona to the European high-speed train grid. The existing Spanish rail system is narrow-gauge compared to Europe so rail transport of goods to and from Barcelona’s logistics complex is limited. Trucks fill the gap.

VIII – What the Greater Seattle Delegation Learned

Three words: strategy, consensus and leadership. Those were the touchstones of the 2002 Barcelona Study Mission.

There’s no question study mission participants envied the Barcelona region’s consensus on economic development strategies and ability to move ahead with major projects to implement their strategic vision. The Seattle area, in contrast, was seen as mired in process and the divisiveness and delaying strategies, including litigation, used by dissenting groups. Study mission participants learned that in Barcelona, consensus (“The technology of advancing,” Mayor Joan Clos called it.) has been the tool – the goal, really – of the region’s leadership, including mayors Pasqual Maragall and Clos and Catalonia President Jordi Pujol. Leadership around the goal of regional economic development has kept Barcelona on a course to be one of the premier economic engines of the European Union.

“They have the ability to make decisions and move on with it,” Bob Wallace, past chair of the Chamber, observed at Friday morning’s debriefing session. Making the same observation, several people, including Port of Seattle Commissioner Pat Davis and Doug Beighle proposed that next fall’s Chamber leadership conference focus on leadership, and how to get the region going again. “We need to identify the next generation of leaders and train them to be leaders,” said Beighle.

“We’re still doing everything at the tactical level. We’re not strategic. [There’s] “no leadership until we define where we want to go,” said Port of Seattle Commissioner Clare Nordquist. Similarly, having seen how Barcelona’s leaders work together through organizations such as the Metropolitan Strategic Plan, participants often commented during the week on the lack of a Greater Seattle regional organization that could bring political leaders and others together to tackle regional problems and set a strategic course for the region’s development.

Asked for his observations during a midweek bus ride, City Councilman Richard Conlin characterized the Seattle-Barcelona contrast this way: “Consensus means there’s no such thing as ‘no.’ The question is how do we work this out?” But at home in Greater Seattle, he said, “We don’t work at consensus. We just say because there is no consensus we won’t do it.” Leadership is staying with a problem and getting others to do the same until there is consensus, Conlin added.

Among the challenges and opportunities study mission participants mentioned, two stood out: replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct through downtown Seattle coupled with redesign of the city’s face to the waterfront, and marketing the region to The Boeing Company to ensure production lines stay here.

Quite a few mission participants, including Conlin and Seattle Port Commissioner Pat Davis, agreed that replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct with an underground alternative is a huge opportunity to open the city to the waterfront that should not be missed. First step, though, will be leadership to make that option the community’s consensus choice.

Apropos of such public projects – and leadership – Linda Strout, the Port of Seattle’s general counsel, observed that “We focus on bottom line cost, but here [in Barcelona] they include aesthetics, style and public spaces.”

An even more immediate challenge facing the region, according to Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel, Seattle Port Commissioner Paige Miller, Port of Tacoma Executive Director Andrea Riniker and others will be doing what’s needed to make sure The Boeing Co. builds the Sonic Cruiser here. “We’re competing for this; it’s not a given,” counseled Drewel. “Can we mobilize to keep our future?” asked Miller who wondered if, in the possible loss of Boeing production lines, “We do face an imminent threat to our economic viability.”

There’s a need for leaders to “galvanize around the regional transportation package” at least in part to deal with the Boeing “crisis,” said Riniker echoing concern about the upcoming regional and state transportation votes that was a common topic in conversations through the week. (Drewel and his fellow county executives, Ron Sims and Pierce County’s John Ladenburg, proposed a transportation package to their respective councils the day the study mission left Seattle.)

The task ahead, as mission participants observed Friday morning, is to bring people in Greater Seattle together around a regional vision and commitment to economic development, with transportation as highest priority. Without that kind of drive, they felt, the Greater Seattle area will be left only with its present efforts, a little of this, a little of that, and the absence of any consensus that regional economic development is of value to everyone. As Chamber President Steve Leahy asked as he opened the debriefing session: “Do we need a big vision? . . . . Seattle is a center for aerospace and technological innovation,” he said. “Is that enough to capture our region’s imagination, or do we need something else” like the Olympics as a catalyst? “What is the nature of the leadership we now need?” Leahy asked. And that’s really the big question the 2002 International Study Mission brought home.


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