A Tale of Two (Sister) Cities
In a letter dated January 8, 2007, Rochester Hills Mayor – Bryan Barnett – announced its first Sister City Alliance between Rochester Hills, Michigan and Tuz, Montenegro. The Sister City Program, designed to connect the municipalities of Rochester Hills and Tuz in a way that will allow exchanges in administrative, economic, academic, and social programs, was championed by Dr. Prenke Ivezaj, a Rochester Hills resident who himself is an administrative coordinator in the nearby Farmington Hills School District. Mayor Barnett’s letter can be read in its entirety at http://malesiaemadhe.org/documents/sister%20city.pdf
To realize the full potential of sister city alliances, it is worthwhile to weigh the significance of this mutual relationship and its desired outcome as Malesia shifts into a new phase of municipal, academic and economic development.
Sister city relationships have evolved over time since their introduction by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956, but government-to-government relationships remain very important in many countries. The relationships have traditionally focused on cultural and educational exchange and knowledge sharing. Although many international sister city relationships still maintain this focus, a good many others now see the development of economic benefits as a
The role (and subsequent academic and economic pay-offs) of sister city relationships acting as catalysts to developing academic and business linkages is likely to increase over the next decade. Cultural and commercial objectives need not be mutually exclusive – enhancing cultural understanding in the short term can promote commercial exchange in the long run. Let me elaborate on this.
In a world where cultural barriers have been lessened by technological developments such as the internet, and by increasing globalization, it may be that less emphasis is required on the
cultural aspects of these relationships. In addition, reduced barriers to the physical flow of
goods, services, investment and workers have meant that it is imperative for most economies
– and in particular small open economies such as Tuz – to be outwards looking in
their future investment policies. In a similar vein, an exchange of social and academic cultures exposes students to possibilities beyond their realms and open eyes to others on academic barriers that exist around the world.
Benefits from the sister cities programme:
Sister city relationships have delivered economic benefits
International cities that have used sister city relationships in their business plans
indicate that, at the microeconomic (or firm) level, these relationships have delivered
economic benefits. These benefits have had a positive impact upon local economies.
Economic benefits typically cited as arising from, and attributable to sister city relationships
• Establishing business contacts.
• Providing a gateway into new markets and product lines.
• Enhancing the overseas reputation of potential individual firms, and Montenegro as a whole
– giving businesses a competitive edge.
• Reducing transactions and search costs in business negotiations.
• Attracting foreign-fee-paying students.
• Facilitating knowledge and technology sharing and joint research.
• Increasing tourism.
The first three points relate to the creation of potential economic benefits, whereas the last
four points represent realized benefits.
There is substantial potential for extracting further economic benefits from sister city
relationships. Although Rochester Hills and Tuz may have to wait quite some time to see tangible gains from their business dealings via sister city links, they can expect in the near future to see a return on the resources that they have invested into developing networks and building trust overseas. These benefits will continue to increase over time.
If City Councils – Municipalities – and businesses wish to experience greater economic gains from their sister city relationships, they need to better take advantage of the opportunities that such links provide.
Sister city relationships can fit together nicely with other strategic goals. Some of the most
successful relationships focused on identifying and exploiting the region’s competitive
advantages and existing clusters and infrastructure. By targeting key growth industries, sister city relationships can build on both regional and national strategic economic goals, and
maximize the economies of scale of their activities.
Although Tuz lacks in most of the aforementioned targets, the sister city alliance will highlight these shortcomings and hopefully create plans where such targets are not so far-fetched.
Guidelines for Councils (Municipalities)
• Identify your targets – exploit the comparative advantage of your locality.
• Planning is vital – have a strategic plan for each relationship. Build in regular reviews,
and ensure that changing objectives can be accommodated.
• Define the roles – Councils are not always the best agency to conduct business
negotiations, and roles should be delineated accordingly. Internal politics can be offset by
using outside agencies for some activities.
• It’s a two-way thing – include local businesses in trade promotion activities. But by the
same token, know when to back off, and let the business partners negotiate the deal.
• Don’t rush things – sister city relationships thrive on continuity of contact and the
building of trust between local and overseas local bodies. Ensure that continuity of
contact is not over-reliant on individuals.
• Evaluation is essential – evaluating Council activities, and keeping track of business
successes helps demonstrate accountability, and contributes valuable information
regarding best practice.
• Savings are benefits too – information and technology exchange can be a valuable, low
cost source of information.
• Make use of technology – the internet provides an effective, low-cost vehicle for
advertising your region and its comparative advantages.
• Details matter – Councils can help business by providing important cultural and
Guidelines for business
Sister city relationships represent another tool in a business’s toolbox. While they shouldn’t
be relied upon as the only way for a firm to achieve growth overseas, they can be an
important part of any strategic business plan. In this respect, putting time and resources into sister city relationships should be regarded in the same way as any other investment.
Building successful business relationships with sister city contacts requires up-front
expenditure and effort, and will not generate immediate benefits. It can take time –
sometimes years – for these efforts to bear fruit. Continuity of contact, and time spent
establishing trust and building personal relationships is vital to maximizing the economic benefits from sister city relationships.
• Use the sister city relationship as a springboard – sister city contacts can open the
doors to new markets.
• Planning is vital – sister city links work best as part of a business plan. Details matter,
and market research is essential to getting the details right.
• Treat it like any other investment – don’t expect to reap the rewards straight away.
Take the time to develop personal relationships and establish trust.
• Savings are benefits too – contacts made through sister city relationships and
delegations can reduce transactions and search costs.
Guidelines for academics
Sister city relationships have delivered academic benefits
Sister city alliances welcomes families interested in hosting an exchange student. Children in host families, like those traveling abroad, have the opportunity to experience other cultures firsthand and build lasting friendships with students from our partner cities. Hosting an exchange student is one of the most valuable and meaningful contributions of sister city members and supporters.
This is done by furthering the internationalization of schools and to develop intercultural understanding through involvement in a jointly developed residential programme of academic, socio-cultural, and linguistic study. For example “25 Maji” can send 10 students each year to Avondale High School from Tuz so that they can live and study with their American peers in an integrated academic and residential environment. A large number of Tuz students gain international and intercultural experience and insights by joining with their American counterparts in specially designed integrated courses. Others enjoy more intensive exposure by living in dormitory-style housing.
In sum, the relationship between Rochester Hills and Tuz will bring together a variety of exchanges that will undoubtedly expose both possibilities and shortcomings, along with plans and strategies to bridge social, academic and economic gaps between that two cities. The scope of this relationship can be endless, where outputs can be measured and delivered to communities in an effort to further development and progress – a notion that can have elevated benefits for the people of Malësia.
– Viktor N. Ivezaj
West Bloomfield, Michigan
Friday, January 12, 2007
A Tale of Two (Sister) Cities
A Tale of Two (Sister) Cities