Easy living, easy business in Vancouver

By Tavia Grant
The Globe and Mail
Vancouver, a city best known for laid-back living and soggy weather, is the easiest place in the world to do business, a global study of 50 cities says.
The West Coast city, along with Toronto and Montreal, were top three in the world in that category because of a “strong national health-care system, excellent infrastructure, low traffic and easy access to public transportation,” according to MasterCard International Inc.’s first annual ranking of global cities, to be released today.

While many Canadians might laugh at the notion these cities have “low traffic,” they fare well internationally when compared with, say, Mumbai. It’s their quality of life that makes the Canadian cities shine on the global stage, said one of the study’s researchers.
“To come out ahead of the pack … is really an achievement of having some qualities that aren’t common,” said Maurice Levi, professor of finance at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business.
They excel in the one subcategory, but Canadian cities don’t crack the top 10 when it comes to cities driving the world’s commerce, according to the study.
It ranked London first overall, saying it outshined New York as the “leading centre of commerce.” Toronto ranks 12th, Montreal 27th and Vancouver 28th, partly because they’re smaller and attract less capital in financial markets.
Canadian cities can be globally competitive if they maintain their high quality of life and continually improve infrastructure, Mr. Levi said. Rankings could also improve if the banking system becomes more supportive of business startups by extending credit more freely, he added.
Today’s study is part of MasterCard’s new drive to study how cities shape the global economy. Mr. Levi hopes the survey will help guide companies when they decide where to start or expand their businesses.
Among other findings:
– London: The world’s “leading centre of commerce” because of a flexible environment for business, strong global financial connections and “exceptionally high” levels of international trade, travel and conferences.
– New York: Once the “unchallenged” global financial capital, the Big Apple was hampered as bond market regulations in New York affected the volume of listed sales, and the less stable U.S. economy and weakening currency made it fare less well than London.
– Chicago placed second in North America because of its importance for commodities and financial markets.
– Eastern and Western Europe continues to see an economic divide. The lowest-ranking Western European city on the list, Rome, scored nearly equal to Budapest, the highest-ranking Eastern European city.
– “Asian Tigers:” Hong Kong, Singapore and Seoul all ranked among the top 10, with Seoul’s higher education system and patent output helping it lead the pack.
– Dubai: The region’s air and cargo traffic hub, Dubai also claims a flexible business climate optimal for companies seeking a Middle East presence.
– Santiago: Latin America’s top centre of commerce, boasting a stable economy, low crime rate and high quality of life.