Economic competitiveness translates into the ability of a region or city to attract and retain businesses. When seeking inward investment, regions and cities compete aggressively to market and promote their competitive advantages. In a globalised world, Malta’s economic competitiveness needs not only to be understood, but also communicated effectively to interested businesses.
The effective marketing and promotion of Malta as a business destination requires a substantial amount of data as interested companies look for resources, such as specialist labour, facilities or business support infrastructures but also quality of life indicators. Because all these are intrinsically spatial features in the city landscape, they are best represented as maps, using geographic information systems and web applications able to communicate such information in the most effective way.
There are numerous advantages associated with the provision of timely and accurate information about a place. Many theorists developed lists of location factors necessary to support investment. These include Richard Florida (2003) with his three fundamental factors that contribute to a supportive environment for development (talent, tolerance and technology) and Michael Kitson’s (2005) eight forms of capitals which lead to enterprising and creative places.
Out of these, it is necessary to develop a framework within which we can promote Malta as an attractive destination. The example I use is of London, which for over a decade now has provided an online database in map form with relevant geographic information to attract inward investment.
From Think London in the 2000s to today’s Grow.London (http://grow.london) the availability of a set of information about London’s physical, human, knowledge and productive capital supports businesses to make their investment decision in the city. The amount of map data presented in this website includes demographic aspects, connectivity, markets, landmarks and house prices (http://grow.london/map-london). These are seen as essential building blocks for investors, and while information can then be sought through private means, this facility allows for a good first glimpse into the city’s socio-demographic and economic landscapes.
Now some might contend that the scale and size of London, compared to Malta would make such datasets redundant for the islands. I beg to differ. I frequently encounter business people with very specific information about a location or a sector. They either gather that information as part of their business process or have learnt it through experience. Experience here seems to be the key word. Over time, an employer learns about the available human resources and the quality of life in its widest definition, including proximity to entertainment, cultural infrastructure, walkability, proximity to shops and so on. I always wondered what the potential of that information would be if we could lay it all out on a map.
The obvious map of Malta would show Sliema and St Julian’s as the entertainment centres, industrial estates would dot the built up area, the roads would provide for connections and public transport routes would ensure that there is accessibility through alternative modes of transport, ideal for foreigners who live and work temporarily in Malta. Maps of cultural infrastructure, collected by the University of Malta as part of V18 Cultural Mapping project have been recently launched to showcase the potential for creative industries.
Location is fundamental to many things in life, including business. And even though small, Malta has diverse offerings with respect to location. Upcoming modern buildings, historic buildings, sea facing or inland views, accessible and not so accessible locations are just some of the variety of locations this island provides to businesses.
Of course, location is also determined by other things, such as the case of the yachting sector and the location of marine support infrastructures, shops and services near marinas and around the ports. Is there a clustering of these shops and services? How does the clustering effect the provision and level of service in this sector? Similarly the gaming sector attracting a very specific demographic subset of the population, which in turn requires very specific services in particular locations.
In targeting inward investment to the islands, it is not only important to be able to see which investments and sectors Malta could support in the future, but also identify and provide the information necessary to support them. Geographic information systems can provide a platform which is accessible to potential investors to support decision-making and promote Malta as a business destination. Information provision, alongside a decision support system that is able to characterise and classify neighbourhoods, identify best business locations based on quality of life indicators and identify clusters, would upgrade the services Malta offers to potential investors and those interested in doing business in Malta.
Maria Attard is associate professor in geography and director of the Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development at the University of Malta.
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