The city of York is spreading its wings internationally and targeting growth through exporting its products and services to new markets. While the city builds new links with Luxor in Egypt, Julie Hayes gives an overview of its international connections

WHILE known as a world-class tourist destination, York doesn’t have a reputation as a destination for business.

So the city is building on its existing links around the world to encourage more international collaboration, exporting and inward investment.

The York Economic Strategy, published by York Economic Forum for 2011 to 2015, reported that only seven per cent of York’s businesses were exporters.

It outlined the city’s ambition to increase that to 15 per cent by 2015.

At November’s York Business Conference, City of York Council intends to update businesses on the progress, including launching new intitiatives, such as creating a collaboration space on the website to keep track of all York’s international links.

One of the measures already taken to address the gap was the setting up of York Export Forum, chaired by Yorkshire Bank relationship manager Brian De Vere.

The export forum was started about 18 months ago as a quarterly event in which businesses could hear from speakers involved in exporting and get peer-to-peer advice from like-minded exporters, as well as having the business support organisations to hand, such as UKTI, Chamber International and Enterprise Europe.

Mr De Vere said they were developing the forum to businesses’ needs and were open to suggestions for topics companies need help with.

Previous topics have ranged from the cultural aspects of doing business in certain markets to currency risks, methods of payment, where to start, the transportation of goods and various documents required.

The forum will also try to find people who can help with specific problems businesses may have and is currently looking into legal ways businesses can work with countries that have sanctions imposed upon them, such as Libya and the Sudan.

Mr De Vere said: “There are some big contracts in terms of the reconstruction of Libya. The opportunities are there, but there are a lot of barriers in the way.

‘‘They are in the throes of change and there’s political turmoil in some of them and it’s very difficult, but the UK may be losing out if it is not able to find a way to support businesses if legitimate contracts are available.”

Ancient links

The twinning initiative between York and Luxor is backed up with 2,000 years of history, said Dr Joann Fletcher, an Egyptologist and honorary research fellow in the department of archaeology at the University of York.

When the Romans occupied Egypt, she said, it became the southernmost part of the empire, and there is much evidence that travelling throughout the Roman Empire created links between Roman York and ancient Egypt.

She said: “Emperor Septimius Severus, who was born in Libya, became the emperor of Rome from 208 to 211 AD.

‘‘He came to Britain and set up court in York and for three years York was at the centre of the Roman Empire. And because of that, it gained huge prestige.”

Emperor Septimius Severus had also spent a year in Egypt and spent time in the religious city of Luxor, previously called Thebes.

Dr Fletcher said: “He favoured the gods of Egypt rather than Rome, and brought these gods to York. There is evidence they were being worshipped in York 2,000 years ago.

“Recently, archaeologists who have been studying burials from Roman York, have found that far from simply being run-of-the-mill Roman soldiers, they were burials of men and women, a significant number of which came from North Africa, potentially Egypt.

‘‘Because of the distinct chemical make-up of the bones, they have been able to identify several individuals who appear to have come from North Africa, so they’re dealing with real people from multi-cultural ancient York.”

The Yorkshire Museum, based in the Museum Gardens in York, displays evidence of the Egyptian connection in its new Roman galleries, including North African models, figurines and statues from Egypt and of Egyptian gods and symbolism, she said.

“The North Africans travelled so many thousands of miles, even bringing their own cooking pots and North African cooking pottery.

“At the moment, we’re looking at the actual archaeology of the city and what areas might be useful to explore further.

‘‘A lot of what we regard as purely Roman York has unusual aspects,” she said.

Eastern promise

The University of York has had a long-standing relationship with Nanjing in China for the past ten years, a relationship the City of York is now trying to tap into to build commercial relationships.

Katie Stewart, head of economic development at City of York Council, said: “We have had a few opportunities to engage with Nanjing, both representatives from the university and the local economic development and regeneration unit, through their visit to York at the back end of last year.”

The former Lord Mayor, Coun Keith Hyman, and Mark Alty, of City of York Council, visited Nanjing in a return visit during a York and Nanjing Day organised earlier this year.

“The idea was to start to build the relationship with city officials. We have managed to get a few meetings in the diary to explore what a city collaboration would look like and what it would achieve.”

The two cities collaborate in particular in the field of bioscience, but the ancient Chinese city also has a real interest in building links with the heritage and conservation industry as well as tourism.

City of York Council intends to invite the Nanjing government back to York inthe autumn with the intention to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which they hope to have in place next year.


Links were first established with Dijon during a visit last year, when university, council and professional representatives visited the French city.

Now the universities’ business schools are working together and Kay Hyde, head of communications for Visit York, is currently working remotely from the Groupe ESC Dijon Bourgogne – Burgundy School of Business, one of the most prestigious business schools in France.

Kay is based in the postgraduate department, which offers MSc courses in wine business and wine management.

During her stay in Dijon, she will be making contact with the tourism office and the international relations office, while also producing a tourism report on the welcome offered to visitors to the Burgundy wine route.

Kay said it had been satisfying to use her tourism expertise to help the wine producers in Burgundy and hoped to help the business school to make links with business students at the University of York and York St John.

“There are some fantastic opportunities here for degree students to carry on studying in their twin city and learn French at the same time,” she said.

Katie said they were promoting York in Dijon as a link to French businesses doing business in the UK, while UK companies wanting to extend their reach into Europe can use Dijon as a platform.

“Our mantra with any of these markets is that York is a platform for any business to start trading in the UK. It has the quality of a city in the south and the cost of a city in the north.”

New York, Old York

Old York has been demonstrating to its newer cousin across the Atlantic its skills in new technologies, particualrly promoting its creative and media arts talents in New York.

City of York Council has made contact with the economic development units in Chicago and New York on the back of a Stateside trip with the university, creating links with the creative and media arts sector for possible inward investment, promoting the city to businesses within the New York and North East region of the US as a soft landing into the UK or more widely in the EU.

Because we Cannes, Cannes, Cannes

The city has also experienced positive interest following its first venture to internatuional property exhibition MIPIM in Cannes. Katie said: “MIPIM is the largest international property market fair in the world.

‘‘We did a huge amount of research before the event to identify poterntial investors, developers and a few end users with which we felt there was a strtategic fit for the York development landscape and our sectors.”

She said the trip resulted in a number of follow ups and the council is now engaging with a number of investors and developers, including potential partners on York Central.

She said one of their main priorities looking at inward investment was to ensure that York had the premises available to businesses which wanted to move in and for existing businesses in York which are growing.

She said: “We have had a lot of genuine interest, in particular in York Central, as well as the wider strategic housing sites and a number of hotel developers. There has been a bit of reticence in investing outside London.

‘‘A number of investors got burned in places like Leeds which are over-developed to a certain extent.

‘‘What we have learned from that and are working to do is really build the perception of York as a city which has the vital statistics of a southern city, but which is located in the north.”

The city plans to hold an investors week in the autumn to bring interested parties together to start developing partnerships.