Chicago isn’t an easy city to impress. The undisputed commercial capital of the US Midwest (an economic area comparable in weight to Germany), the second US financial centre after New York, and President Obama’s home town, it is used to high level attention. But even The City Of Broad Shoulders paused for thought when confronted by the logistical and practical implications of hosting 50 NATO and ISAF heads of state and government, along with associated, and well advertised, protest groups at last weekend’s Summit.
In the event, everything worked. The sun shone and Chicago’s lakefront looked magnificent. The headlines were mostly positive, focussed on NATO’s changing role in Afghanistan and the Alliance’s longer term evolution. The Chicago Police Department earned much praise for the firm but even handed way in which they prevented disruption while upholding the right to peaceful protest. Motorcades swept smoothly to and from the airport and Chicago’s high profile Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, reconnected with British Prime Minister David Cameron and other world leaders he knew as White House Chief of Staff.
In the British Consulate General our core task is promoting prosperity by working across our 13 state area of the Midwest to promote trade and investment. So for us, the presence of the Prime Minister for the NATO Summit was a real opportunity to add a top level political component to the strategic commercial relationships we help manage between the UK Government and some of Britain’s most important international investors.
Before the opening of the Summit we therefore got the Prime Minister around the table for an informal meeting with top Midwest businesspeople including CEOs and main board directors from Caterpillar (14,000 UK jobs), Kraft Foods (5,500 UK jobs), Allstate Insurance (2,500 UK jobs, mainly in Northern Ireland), Northern Trust (1,600 UK jobs), Groupon (400 UK jobs), Walgreens (largest US pharmacy chain) and JB Pritzker (a prominent Chicago venture capitalist). The venue was 1871, Chicago’s striking new technology entrepreneurship centre. The Prime Minister was able to set out to this key audience how the Government is stabilising UK public finances and creating a climate for growth. And he was able in turn to hear first-hand from these investors and employers about what works for them in the UK and what they would like to see changed.
Feedback from those present has been very positive. And we had a reminder earlier in the week about the value of this sort of strategic relationship building here in the Midwest with the announcement by General Motors, based in Detroit, that they will be increasing production and adding 700 new jobs at their Ellesmere Port plant in Merseyside. That represents a real success for the UK against a difficult European economic background and particular problems in the volume car industry. And at least part of the reason for GM’s decision was personal involvement in this strategic relationship by the Prime Minister and the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, with help from this Consulate and colleagues from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in London.
So as the last of the Summit banners are taken down and boats return to Chicago’s harbours we’ll be going back to what we and our US Network colleagues do every day: deploying Diplomatic Excellence to promote Britain and take forward relationships with the American companies who in total employ one million of our fellow citizens.