“We are not a big city, but we can be better than others in terms of fast growth businesses”

Gintarė Kavaliūnaitė, public relations manager of the official development agency of Vilnius, explains why Lithuania´s capital has been recently regarded among the ‘top three medium-size European cities of the future’ by the Financial Times

The Theory of Evolution launched by the biologist Charles Darwin shed light on dozen of metaphysic question marks.  It is one of the best-substantiated theories in the history of science, according to which, the present species are the result of a constant process of adaptation based on the logics of success and failure. However, what Darwin did not predict in 1859 is that his natural rules would derivate throughout the years into a social theory according to which, individuals, groups and places are subject to the same changes in heritable physical or behavioural traits. Cities as societies are considered a competitive scenery. Only the ones prepared to reap the benefits of emerging business and able to capitalize on the opportunities presented by the digital transformation and beyond, will not only survive in the market but will also drive the future.  

Social Darwinism is nowadays more alive than ever. The world changes in a blink of an eye. Places that have gone unnoticed are surpassing cities that throughout the years have been popular and attractive destinations to guests looking forward to live, work and invest. The key then is to understand why some places are increasingly becoming better than others at attracting people and investors. According to Richard Florida, an American Urban studies theorist, the answer lies in their openness, diversity and tolerance. When the author mentions the term ‘tolerance’ in his formula called ‘the three Ts of the economic development’: talent, technology and tolerance, it means simply accepting different kinds of people. It entails being proactively inclusive in order to mobilize the creative talent.

This experimentation and openness to change have already delivered their fruits in the capital of Lithuania, Vilnius, a new generation city, is still yet to be discovered worldwide. It has been recently regarded among the top three medium-size European cities of the future by the Financial Times Investment Expert Group fDi Intelligence. Its strategy to attract and retain business investment and hold talent from abroad to live and work in the capital of Lithuania was considered by an the independent expert panel of the Fdi intelligence as a role model for other cities.

In order to get a deeper inside about Vilnius strategy, we have arranged an interview with Gintarė Kavaliūnaitė, public relations manager of Go Vilnius, the official development agency of Lithuania´s capital.

Q: In an interview, the Major of Vilnius, Remigijus Simasius, stated: “foreign experts follow and appreciate our consistent and targeted efforts to create a new generation city open to cutting-edge technology and embracing the most daring ideas”. In order to achieve this goal, what sort of projects are or will be implemented in Vilnius?

A: “Vilnius is working in three directions: attracting tourists, talent and investment to the city. Recently we have launched a relocation guide, which is based on the experiences of people who have already made their move to Vilnius. We collected all the information with the aim to facilitate the integration of future foreigners. By scheduling step by step the process, we offer them what they should do first, before coming, and secondly, while they are settle in. This is how we have constructed the talent road. We have received some good feedback from foreigners, but also companies.”

Q: Does it mean that this relocation guide is also been used by enterprises that are interested in recruiting foreign workers?

A: “Human Resources department are using this tool. We are living in a time where recruitment is global. Companies are interested in hold people from Vilnius, but especially from other countries when the profile that there are looking for is missing. When they finally find the specialist, a foreign talent, they provide them this tool in order to smooth their move to Vilnius.”

Q: Is this relocation guide suitable either for EU citizens either for non-EU family members?

A: “The relocation guide is individualized. You need to fill out some information about yourself like where are you coming from. The immigration rules differ whether you are from a EU country or not. Then, if you are moving with your family or not, because we can provide you some advice about kindergarten or schools for the kids.”

Q: According to Richard Florida, an American Urban studies theorist, focusing in social and economic growth, there is a connection between multicultural societies and economic growth. Vilnius is the most tolerance and ethnically diverse city in Lithuania with more than 128 ethnicities like Russian, Polish, German, Belarusian and Jewish. How important is multiculturalism for this city?

A: “Multiculturalism enriches in many ways. In the companies, for example, if the workforce comes from different countries, there is a wide spectrum of experiences. Even here in Go Vilnius we have a partner who is actually working on talent attraction. His name is Martin. He is himself a talent from Belarusian, actually living in Vilnius since ten years ago. Therefore, he hosts an outsider view in regards how Vilnius looks like from abroad. His experience is very valuable for us. If you are from here, you cannot see yourself from outside.”

Q: Is the city ready to hold a massive migration of foreigners?

A: “The percentage of foreigners in the city is growing. Therefore, there is a growing need of services in English or other languages. Ten years ago it was a challenge to do to a doctor because it was really difficult to find a doctor who was able to speak in English. Now, in a very short term, there are more foreigners and, consequently, the service provider has also already grown in order to meet that demand.”

Q: Where does this growth come from?

A: “What contributes to the raise of foreigners interested in living or working in Vilnius are the national corporations and the universities, as well. Universities recruit a wide number of foreign students.”

Q: In regards to enterprises, what sorts of companies and sectors are considered the driving force of Vilnius economy growth?

A: “From Go Vilnius we are aware that one of the top priority sectors to boost is Financial Technology. It is a rapidly expanding sector around the world. Rise Vilnius is a good example of such an initiative. It hosts start-ups that are working in the field of F.T. If you have a creative idea linked to this field, you are allowed to come and get an opportunity to develop your business. Raise Vilnius is supported by Barclays. Therefore, there is some framework. On the other hand, it is such a good example of collaboration. Barclays employs more than a thousand workers in the service centre and IT centre. Besides, it is contributing to raise new talents.”

Q: According to the Financial Times Investment Expert Group fDi Intelligence, Vilnius was described a “city of the future”, particularly the “third best mid-size European city of the future”. Are you that optimistic in regards to future growth?

A: “It is usually said that Vilnius is fast and open. We are not a big city, but we can be better than other cities in terms of fast growth businesses and flexibility. Businesses from other countries do not have to face a lot of bureaucracy barriers. They start to operate as soon and fast as possible. This is the point of this city. An example is Uber. It was the fastest entering in the city, which took less than a month.”

Q: In order to keep boosting this business booming, what other type of initiatives is Go Vilnius currently developing?

A: ‘Actually we have launched a new initiative. The aim is to invite international companies to come and spend one week in Vilnius with their staff. We provide them the office space and accommodation. Due to this programme, they can experience what it feels like to live and work in Vilnius.’

Q:  To someone who has never ever been to Vilnius before, how would you describe to him or her, life in Vilnius?

A: “Vilnius value lies in the work & life balance. It is a quite compact city. There is only 15 minutes by walk from the city centre to the Tech Park. For example, if you move to a big city like London, you might spend a lot of your free time in traffic to get to your job or get back to your home. Here the distances are quite short, so all this time that you gain, you can spend it in leisure or with the family. Foreigners who have already made their move to Vilnius have emphasized that the city has impressed them, even more than they expected. It is a place yet to be discovered by the world. However, we are very optimist in regards to the future. When you are clearly focus in the right direction, then you can dedicate all your sources on that purpose. We want Vilnius to be: open, diverse and different. Open to new people, new businesses and initiatives. That is the focus of this city and Go Vilnius is partly helping to achieve this goal.”