Lviv wins Future City award
West Ukrainian capital named among top ten Euro cities in annual Financial Times ‘Future City’ survey
Lviv’s on-going efforts to reinvent itself as a regional tourism and outsourcing hub will receive a fresh international boost in March when the city is recognised among the continent’s finest at this year’s Financial Times ‘European Cities & Regions of the Future’ ranking. Lviv City Hall officials will be on hand at the traditional gala dinner in Cannes, where they will be invited to take a bow for top ten finishes in the FDI Strategy and Cost Effectiveness categories of the annual pan-European investment survey.
This accolade reflects the many natural advantages which the conveniently-located West Ukrainian capital city enjoys in its commanding position astride Europe’s key trade routes. It is also payback for the long-term efforts of successive Lviv administrations which have worked to build a strong local brand and produce a coherent master plan for the regeneration of the city. It is by no means the first time that international investment analysts have identified Lviv as Ukraine’s most exciting proposition, but nevertheless this latest Financial Times recognition is being touted as the biggest single international vote of confidence for the city since KPMG named Lviv among its 30 top IT/outsourcing destinations in 2009.
Lviv’s likeable logo and online investor accessibility
Lviv’s relative success owes much to strong branding and the ability to sell itself – something sadly lacking in most of Lviv’s Ukrainian counterparts. When it comes to making life easier for international FDI, Lviv City Council has led the way among Ukrainian municipal authorities. In 2009 they introduced arguably Ukraine’s most comprehensive online investment portal – a project which was developed in conjunction with the city’s commercial partners including KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers and which offers information in Ukrainian, English and German, with Polish and French in the pipeline.
Efforts to create a contemporary Lviv brand have been bolstered by the adoption in 2006 of a stylish and memorable Lviv city logo, which visitors to the West Ukrainian capital will find adorning everything from concert posters and Tourist Information booths to T-shirts and posters. Designed by Lviv artist Yurko Krukevych, the logo – which features stylistic representations of five of Lviv’s most famous landmarks - was originally intended as a one-off brand for use during gala celebrations in 2006 to mark the city’s 750th anniversary. However, it proved such a hit with Leopolitans and visitors alike that it was soon modified and adopted as the official tourism logo for the city as a whole.
International support fuelling Lviv renaissance
As well as clever branding, Lviv’s progress has also been aided by considerable outside support in the form of both know-how and direct financial backing. Over the past decade Lviv City Council has proven adept at identifying the international partners best able to take Lviv forward, developing a wide range of international projects which borrow heavily from the successful experiences of the city’s Central European neighbours. The EBRD and USAID have both invested heavily into the modernisation of Lviv’s infrastructure, while Euro 2012 has attracted further development funding to the city and allowed for the first truly systematic overhaul of Lviv’s cobblestone streets since independence.
Counting on a lucrative Euro 2012 infrastructural inheritance
Serhiy Kiral, who serves as Head of the Foreign Economic Relations and Investments Department at Lviv City Council, says that securing two top ten finishes in this year’s Financial Times ‘Future City’ survey is pleasing but nothing out of the ordinary for Ukraine’s most international investor-friendly city. Like most of the people behind the modern Leopolitan renaissance, Kiral is a local lad whose enthusiasm is partly drawn from a natural sense of pride in his home town. “Today’s Lviv is an ambitious place with ambitious goals,” he says. “After years of relative economic hardship following the Soviet collapse, there is sense of purpose as we continue along the road towards the prestige and prominence which Lviv has always historically enjoyed.” This notion of an historic mission to make up for the 50-odd wasted years of Soviet inertia and isolation is tangible throughout the public and private sectors in Lviv, providing the city with a clear sense of purpose which has proved fertile ground for new initiatives and foreigner-friendly measures.
Airport arrival will make Lviv truly intercontinental
Along with the majority of Leopolitans, Kiral is optimistic about the legacy which Lviv can expect from this summer’s Euro 2012 championships. The city will play host to just three group stage games in total over a period of less than two weeks – hardly long enough to refill the city coffers and replenish municipal budgets exhausted by Euro preparations. Nevertheless, while the maelstrom of the tournament itself will dissipate relatively rapidly, the infrastructural inheritance which the championships will bring to Lviv has the potential to take the city to a whole new level both as an FDI destination and as a tourism hub. Kiral identifies Lviv’s revamped international airport as the city’s key Euro 2012 project and states that it will transform the city’s accessibility overnight. Once fully operational, the new terminal building will be one of the most modern hubs in the region with a capacity of almost 2,000 passengers an hour and a runway capable of accommodating intercontinental flights. Turkish Airlines, Austrian Airlines and Lufthansa already offer international services from Lviv Airport, but the current flight schedule is likely to come in for considerable revision as new carriers queue up to tap into fresh West Ukrainian air travel markets.
A uniquely Ukrainian environment
In recent years Lviv has proved an increasingly appealing destination for international companies looking to establish a presence in Ukraine. For many Lviv has proved the logical location for a secondary Ukrainian office, while a small but growing band of corporate arrivals have chosen to establish their Ukrainian head offices in the country’s western capital. This is partly due to Lviv’s enviable connections to the EU zone and also a reflection of the understandable desire take advantage of the city’s excellent academic traditions and unsurpassed Ukrainian language skills. However, for many Lviv-based expats the city exerts a romantic pull which cannot always be quantified by mere balance sheets and MBA analysis. Lars Vestbjerg is the Chairman of the Board of the Danish Business Association – Lviv’s single largest foreign business community – and a long-serving member of the city’s expat community whose own experience reflects the attachment which many international visitors develop for the West Ukrainian capital. He sees Lviv as an increasingly attractive destination which offers cost-effective convenience and a uniquely European ambience to Western investors. “Lviv is extremely unusual in that it offers a window on the architecture and culture of 4 different empires,” he enthuses. Vestbjerg believes that this picture postcard appeal has been crucial in securing more favourable international media coverage for Lviv than the rest of Ukraine combined, and argues that with Euro 2012 just around the corner and a Winter Olympic bid currently at the preparatory stage, the world is set to hear a lot more about the capital of West Ukraine in the coming 12 months.
A history of innovation and invention
This optimism is echoed by Markian Malskyy, who heads up the West Ukrainian offices of Arzinger law firm. For the Malskyy, the most noteworthy aspect of Lviv’s Financial Times recognition is that fact that it places the emphasis firmly on the future. “Lviv is traditionally viewed in terms of its past. It is a city of exceptional historical wealth and as such many locals are accustomed to viewing Lviv within the context of this history, so it is particularly nice to see the city acknowledged as a leading European ‘Future City’,” he explains. Malskyy believes that Lviv’s latest international accolade is well-earned and reflects a Leopolitan taste for innovation which resurfaced in the chaotic early years of independence in the 1990s after an extended Soviet slumber. “In 2007 Lviv became the first Ukrainian city to offer free wireless internet access in the city centre, but this was just a recent manifestation of a historic trend,” he explains. “Historically, Lviv was always a centre of innovation and development, playing host to Ukraine’s first municipal park, its first railway, its first tram service and even the country’s first eve football match.”
A rare example of Ukrainian optimism
Looking ahead, Malskyy sees Lviv emerging as a mainstream East European tourism destination and envisages a fully pedestrianized city centre within the next two decades capable of welcoming millions of visitors a year. His vision is one which is shared by many involved in the development of today’s Lviv and which is regularly encountered in both the public and private sectors of Leopolitan life. This rare example of Ukrainian optimism is not just a matter of local pride and clever marketing – it also reflects a tangible growth dynamic which is energising Lviv’s business community and increasingly attracting the attention of outsider investors. International awards like this month’s Financial Times recognition will certainly help to boost Lviv’s profile further, but the real breakthroughs are expected to come in the aftermath of this summer’s big European debut, when the outside world will finally be exposed to the charms of this uniquely Ukrainian yet decidedly cosmopolitan ‘Future City’.