Mayor eyes sisterhood with San Francisco

JAZIAL CROSSLEY
Last updated 05:00 21/09/2012

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Closer business links between Wellington and San Francisco, as sister cities, could be in place within a year, Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown says.

Wade-Brown, who recently returned from a trip to the Californian city that sits on the doorstep of Silicon Valley, reports "enthusiasm" for creating closer relationships.

The cities share similar seaside geography, more liberal socio-political environments, strong creative high-tech business communities and a love of artisan food and drink.

"We want to bring people from San Francisco and their companies to Wellington," she said.

"Most of the companies there are the best of Wellington's kind of companies - nimble, IT, software, gaming, innovative kind of companies that fit what we've got very well."

Although the American economy was "not great" there were still "plenty of well-off people".

Wellington Employers' Chamber of Commerce president Richard Stone said the capital's business community would support a relationship with San Francisco.

High-level local-government-to-local-government relationships are critical in creating business links, Stone said.

It would not be the same as a sister-city relationship with a Chinese city, of which Wellington already has two.

The San-Francisco-based Kiwi Landing Pad helps New Zealand companies break into the United States market. One of its founders, Wellington-based John Holt, said the San Francisco Bay Area was the heart of the technology industry globally.

A sister-city relationship would build on existing links, he said.

"We've only been going a year but we've already had quite a bit of interest from organisations and individuals who would like to spend more time or have business operating in New Zealand and hopefully in Wellington," Holt said.

"If you've got more people coming across even just socially, there are a lot more opportunities to learn, get connections and understand more about how to build something that can provide more value."

Wade-Brown said a sister-city relationship could be in place in time for the next America's Cup, which will be held in San Francisco, and feature a strong Kiwi presence on the water.

An attempt by previous mayor Kerry Prendergast to form links between the cities had not been followed up with the same "urgency", she said.

A visit by the more conservative mayor Sir Michael Fowler, who held office in the late 1970s to early 1980s, foundered on socio-political differences at the time, a council source said.

"San Francisco has a very vocal GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender] community so the pink tourism opportunities are pretty strong," Wade-Brown said.

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"For people who would come over here I have to say that would be a big advantage of having gay marriage here. "Very importantly with the earthquake side of things, they're not going to be nervous about Wellington because they have the same issues."

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee was supportive, "but we have to do the work".

"There could be some specific initiatives that might be joint work such as the Animfx conference.

"The American ambassador here was very supportive; NZTE [New Zealand Trade and Enterprise] are really helpful."

SISTER CITIES

The programme aims to "foster communications across borders – a mutual exchange of ideas, people and materials in cultural, educational, youth, sports, municipal, professional and technical projects".

The capital has three existing sister-city agreements: Signed in 1987: Xiamen in China Signed in 1994: Sakai in Japan Signed in 2006: Beijing in China

- The Dominion Post

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