Jack Simpson joined a Newcastle delegation to Nancy, France, celebrating the 65th twinning anniversary between the two cities.
Last weekend, I had the privilege of representing the North East business community as part of a Newcastle delegation to the French city of Nancy. The delegation was celebrating 65 years of twinning between Newcastle-Nancy and strengthening the relationship ahead of some turbulent times.
Nancy and Newcastle share a common history. Through the 1970’s both suffered a period of economic decline through deindustrialisation but have begun to reinvent themselves since the 1990’s as world leaders in science, digital and new manufacturing.
The delegation was welcomed in the grand Town Hall Chamber (pictured) by Nancy mayor, Laurent Henart. Council Leader Nick Forbes delivered a powerful speech on the need to remain outward and internationalist looking, and to strengthen relationships with European partners come what may.
Following the ceremonial process, the delegation had a wider discussion about the opportunities and challenges across the two cities and regions. While the discussion focused on education and health, I was able to promote the North East as an exciting place to do business with projects like Helix and IAMP, the innovative practices and developing sectors like digital and food & drink.
On the other hand, it was reported that Nancy was going through a period of transition in its city centre, and that the council was bringing together business to add its own flavour. I was able to promote our work with Lichfields as an indicator how business can work with local authorities to reinvent the high street space.
The most pressing challenge was the transition to a green economy. Here they were playing a key role in linking schools and universities with business to develop ideas and projects that would spur on this transition.
On this, Newcastle and Nancy hope to open up the sharing of knowledge between the two cities and promoting new ideas across the channel. This will be a new angle for a “virtual”, or digital, relationship between the twins.
Later, the delegation moved to the street naming ceremony. As a sign of enduring friendship, Nancy had dedicated one a new street in the new part of Nancy to Newcastle, naming it Rue de Newcastle. The site will be a future hub of cultural, digital and tech industries, and connects the river Meurthe to the football stadium. A very fitting street for Newcastle.
Mayor Laurent Henart and Council Leader Nick Forbes (Centre) open Rue de Newcastle- Newcastle Street
The weekend was rounded off with a meeting with the Nancy Chambre de Commrce et d’Industrie (CCI). Unlike in Britain, French businesses must be members of their regional Chamber, but they fill a gap of economic development left by their Government.
For example, the CCI recently launched Export France, a project to aid businesses in trading international, joining trade missions and providing resources and databases. This model is very similar to the UK Government’s Department for International Trade, however, the CCI have more control on which sectors to target and missions to launch, based on the strengths of the Lorraine region.
The “Grand Est” (Grand East) Region, which CCI covers, is the second top exporting region after Paris, but exports make up the most GNP of any other region at 39%. The two Chambers have agreed to promote the developing clusters and sectors, particularly around Automotive, Digital and Energy. We will be exploring development of clusters and regional innovation, and how to use digital infrastructure to increase knowledge sharing and relationships.
It was an honour to represent Chamber members over this ceremonial weekend. The Chamber looks forward to developing the relationship with Nancy and would encourage any business looking to trade with or in the EU to explore the exciting opportunities between the North and Grand East.