Firms from Birmingham are to descend on Chicago next year in a major investment push, as an expert predicts the “special relationship” will remain the city’s most valuable export asset.
UK Trade and Investment and Marketing Birmingham will work together on the trip to Illinois next year, taking dozens of local firms out to stimulate trade and inward investment.
At a time when much focus is on growing trade with emerging economies like China and India, the US remains Birmingham’s key export market.
Colette Buscemi, head of the international business development team at UKTI in Chicago, said the sister cities have a similar focus in driving growth amid global gloom.
Chicago has similar manufacturing roots to the West Midlands, and is also focusing on the digital and healthcare sectors.
Ms Buscemi said: “Chicago, like a lot of cities in the Mid West, has gone through a process of transition and transformation, and it has very much focused on similar things to what Birmingham is doing.
“As soon as I came here and saw the investment in infrastructure, like the library, you can see there is an energy and a sense of transformation.
“The whole of the Mid West is underpinned by agriculture and manufacturing but people have been looking beyond that, investing in infrastructure and focusing on financial services, IT, digital and mobile – mirroring a lot that is happening in Birmingham.
“These are giving the city a fresh look.”
Despite strong growth from emerging economies, the US remains the largest investor in Birmingham – accounting for 27 per cent of companies locating in the city in the last 12 months.
Equally, the UK is the second-largest investor in Illinois, having invested more than £6 billion in the state – second only to Japan.
UK companies employ 51,900 people in Illinois, while more than 350 North American companies, including Microsoft, Motorola and Cadbury owner Kraft Foods – which is headquartered in Chicago – provide employment for 60,000 people in the Birmingham area.
One such example is Small Heath software firm Delcam, which has recently revealed plans to set up a base in Rockford, near Chicago.
However, progress is hindered by the ongoing lack of direct flights from Birmingham to Chicago.
They were stopped shortly after the September 11 attacks in 2001 – which means the sister cities have been without a direct link for more than a decade.
The issue was recently highlighted as bith cities marked 20 years of their partnership.
Ms Buscemi said: “It is a very important route.
“It is key to international trade for companies from this area to be able to travel to Chicago, and for investment.”
In August last year, bosses from Birmingham Airport and the Chicago Department of Aviation – operator of Chicago O’Hare International – signed a memorandum of understanding, agreeing to work together to strengthen trade, tourism and cultural links.
When asked about the reputation Birmingham has in the US, Ms Buscemi added: “Birmingham is looked at very favourably. It is very well regarded.
“Going back to Chicago being an international city, Birmingham is very much international, and very diverse, like Chicago.”