Now and again, opportunities come along that are too good to pass up and I have been lucky enough that two such opportunities have come my way that I have grabbed with both hands.
The first was reported on in the Mail a couple of weeks ago when I got invited to speak at a conference on Climate Change.
The conference took place in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and I was actually asked to host the morning plenary session on the second day so. Not only did I get the chance to share with people from all around the world the work that is going on in Hartlepool and the Tees Valley around moving to a low carbon economy, but I also got the opportunity to open the day by giving a short presentation on Hartlepool.
I never miss a trick to extol the virtues of our town and, with the audience coming from all parts of the globe, it was a fabulous way to be able to promote Hartlepool on an international stage.
It is always difficult to know what we will get out of an event such as this apart from some really positive publicity and promotional opportunities. However, I was taken aback by the interest that was shown in what we are doing in Hartlepool and I was delighted to be approached by people from Vietnam and India with a view to learning more.
I’ve also gained links with a British company in Vietnam who are looking to promote British architecture and engineering over there as the country is developing at a huge rate of knots, so it may lead to opportunities for some of our local companies.
I didn’t get as long as I would have liked to be able to sample the local culture and other delights of Vietnam but what I did experience, I thoroughly enjoyed.
It is a country of real optimism and looking to compete on an international stage with some of the main players.
There is still a lot of poverty evident and the country certainly has a long way to come in terms of health and safety, especially road safety but the food was excellent and the local people were extremely welcoming and hospitable. It is certainly a country I would like to go back to and it would be great if links between Vietnam and the Tees Valley are strengthened in the future.
Now Vietnam was a fantastic experience but the trip I made last week was even better. I was invited as a delegate to the Global Cities conference in Abu Dhabi hosted by the Government of Abu Dhabi and it attracted a mixture of city leaders and top businesses from around the world.
The theme of the conference was sustainability and there were some fascinating presentations and discussions from some of the world’s leading experts in their fields.
I wasn’t one of the presenters this time, but I certainly promoted Hartlepool at every opportunity during the networking sessions.
Amazingly, nearly half of the people I spoke to had already heard of Hartlepool and some had even been here before, so it was a pleasure when they wanted to find out much more about our town.
One of the highlights was a speech by Adrian Fenty who was Mayor of Washington DC up until January and I got a chance to have a chat with him afterwards.
Abu Dhabi is one of the richest countries in the world and I’m pretty sure everyone at the conference harboured dreams of attracting investment from the Arabs into their own particular region.
The country is indeed diversifying its economy and developing and spending money like it is going out of fashion.
What struck me though, is that they have a very clear vision on how they want their country to develop and are positioning themselves to become one of the world leaders as a place to live, work and visit. They have the money to realise their vision and have learned many lessons from neighbouring Dubai both good and bad.
It also appeared that everyone from big business to local residents are completely signed up to this vision and the faith, respect and confidence they have in their Government will mean that Abu Dhabi will be one of the places to be over the next decade and more.
No expense is spared in anything they do and it appears that every detail is accounted for.
The public realm alone must have had millions, if not billions spent on it. Everywhere you look there is a public park, a children’s play area or footpath like a promenade. The roads are immaculate, not a pot hole in sight.
The streets are very green and there are magnificent flower displays on every corner. Buildings are being put up all over the place and there is a bit of a building site feel to the place but you can easily tell what it is going to look like in a few years’ time.
I will definitely be visiting again in the future and I would put it up there amongst the most impressive places I have ever been.
Just in case anyone is wondering, and I’m sure there are a few who are, the Vietnam trip was fully funded by the conference organisers and the Abu Dhabi conference and hotel fees were funded by the Abu Dhabi Government and I paid for the flight myself.
As a rule of thumb, I don’t usually go to conferences out of town unless there is something specifically of interest however these two recent conferences were both opportunities that were too good to miss.
It was a great chance to promote Hartlepool on a global scale and to form new relationships and links with different organisations that may even lead to better things in the future, who knows?