Barcelona Field Studies Centre

The world's twelve best manufacturing cities

Articles - IndustryWeek Magazine Publication Date 4.5.1999

The Medalists

By Richard Osborne

This time, 13 is a lucky number. Which is not to suggest that our gold-medal World-Class Communities have achieved their status by happenstance. In each case, it has required the efforts of visionary manufacturing executives, wise government leaders, and dedicated workers. Together, they are making the most of strategic locations and other natural advantages in order to put their communities at the top. Here at a glance are the communities we've chosen as the best of the best for manufacturing.  

  • Barcelona -- Barcelona has served as a crossroads of manufacturing -- a vital center of trading and shipping -- throughout the millennium now coming to a close. Its strategic location, on the Mediterranean Sea and near the border with France, has made its emergence as the principal industrial and commercial center of Spain inevitable. But just as important has been its cultural commitment to manufacturing as the mainstay of the community's economic life.  
  • Chicago -- More than 80 years ago, when steelworkers and meat packers defined the spirit of Chicago, Carl Sandburg pronounced it the "City of the big shoulders." Today, when blue suits capture that spirit as well as blue collars, the name sticks. Today's Chicago is a textbook example of the new manufacturing -- a community where location and production constitute the beginning, not the end, of the manufacturing story, and skyscrapers and industrial parks contribute equally to the skyline of success.  
  • Detroit -- Haunted by a perception that their community is caught in a steep spiral of decline, metropolitan Detroit's civic and business leaders have linked arms in an ambitious campaign that should put that perception to rest. But any notion that the community is reinventing itself misses an essential point: Manufacturing -- the community's lifeblood for generations -- is a key component of the turnaround. The efforts of community leaders, then, constitute a commitment to rediscovering the community's roots.  
  • Houston -- The story of Houston is the story of a lesson painfully but profitably learned. When oil prices collapsed in 1982, the city suffered. But as the community reeled, it also pledged it would do everything in its power to find a cure. Today, in addition to its strength in oil and gas exploration, basic petroleum refining, and petrochemical production, the area thrives on high technology, medical research, health care, and professional services.  
  • Osaka -- The unrelenting Japanese recession has put even world-class Osaka to the test. It is a test the community has passed with typical resilience. Such old reliables as textiles, automobiles, and electrical equipment remain. But in their midst, innovation. Names such as Matsushita, Sharp, and Nintendo tell the tale of Osaka, just as they tell the tale of the Kansai region -- and just as they tell the tale of the future of manufacturing itself.  
  • Randstad -- The Randstad region of the Netherlands is a cornucopia of manufacturers engaged in everything from tobacco to information technology. But it is not merely the products that emerge from this thriving region that give it its world-class status. The Randstad earns its place by virtue of its holistic approach to manufacturing. Its impressive lineup of headquarters, logistics, and R&D facilities puts the region on the manufacturing map, and marks it with a gold star.  
  • San Jose -- Unless you've been trapped in a cave -- with no access to the Internet -- for the last 30 years or so, you know the way to San Jose quite well: Just follow the computers. The capital of Silicon Valley, San Jose is considered to be the birthplace of the high-technology boom and the semiconductor industry. The spirit of innovation emanating from Silicon Valley remains the energy force that fuels high technology around the globe.  
  • São Paulo -- Transportation advances during the last century (not to mention a strong dose of coffee) sealed São Paulo's shift from an agrarian economy. The city now is the commercial center not only of Brazil, but also of South America. Besides its prominence in the chemical, textile, metalworking, and electronics industries, São Paulo is a driving force in world automobile production. No wonder the São Paulo metro area continues to attract all sorts of plants, including automotive.  
  • Seoul -- The relationship between Seoul and Inchon stands as a model of the world-class manufacturing community. No one city can achieve world-class status alone. The bustling port city of Inchon is used to its best advantage by Seoul, whose own manufacturing base -- primarily textiles and apparel, chemicals and medicine, electrical products and electronics, and machinery -- supplies markets around the world. It comes as no surprise, then, that Seoul is at the forefront of the globalization of Korea.  
  • Shanghai -- One of the largest cities in the world, Shanghai earns its world-class distinction by virtue of its position as the leading commercial and industrial center of China and for capitalizing on its strategic location with outstanding transportation links. Like São Paulo, Shanghai benefits greatly from its perception in the executive suites of foreign corporations. When the subject turns to China, more often than not Shanghai is mentioned in the next breath.  
  • Singapore -- Call Singapore the survivor. No one here will object -- least of all the government and business leaders who, with the help and cooperation of workers, have struggled valiantly to beat the odds. The struggle has been largely successful. Though Singapore has been hurt by association -- that is, its economic ties to Southeast Asia -- it is managing to overcome the regional crisis. Growth is slow but steady and indicates a gradual course toward even greater prosperity.  
  • Tokyo -- Eleven million manufacturing workers lend their might to the Kanto/Kansai mega-megalopolis. Tokyo, capital of the Kanto region and counterpart of Osaka in the Kansai region, is home to many of the world's largest manufacturers as well as thousands of smaller firms. Tokyo also is a headquarters community, with automakers among those who have found it an ideal setting for both corporate penthouses and plant floors.  
  • Toronto -- Although Toronto serves as headquarters for a number of manufacturing firms, it is the North American auto industry that keeps it thriving. And when the cars and trucks roll off Toronto's assembly lines, many of them head straight to the U.S. A cosmopolitan city where culture and business walk hand in hand, Toronto is poised to be a symbol of the best of the best in Canada as a new century dawns.