Kick-off event
Short description
On 6 June Ventspils gathered city leaders and city development specialists from all over Latvia. During the discussion event “Next Generation Innovations in Creating New Jobs in Cities”, representatives of local governments, state institutions, educational institutions and non-governmental organizations discussed issues such as attracting talents to Latvian cities, the importance and introduction of educational technologies, attracting foreign direct investment and urban marketing. The kick-off event was dedicated to launching “Next Generation Micro Cities of Europe” (NextGen Microcities), a unique project in Latvia and the Baltics within the Urban Innovative Actions Initiative.

The importance of the topics was confirmed by the large number of participants. More than a hundred experts and professionals from Ventspils, Valmiera, Riga, Salaspils, Ozolnieki, Aizkraukle, Liepaja, Bauska, Jekabpils, Ilukste, Kuldiga, Rezekne, Ludza, Daugavpils, Dobele, Salas County, Nica, Kekava, Jelgava, Skrunda and Tukums came to listen and participate in the discussion.

The panel discussion on attracting talent to cities was led by Jānis Kreilis, Founder and Manager of Your Move. The participants of the panel were Iveta Putniņa, Administrative Vice-Rector of Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences, Kārlis Krēsliņš, Rector of Ventspils University of Applied Sciences, and Ilze Valdmane, Head of Ventspils Business Support Centre (Ventspils High Technology Park). The discussion ended with several conclusions. 
Firstly, the importance of a strong brand for cities was emphasized, as well as the ability to position and “sell” itself directly to talents and professionals. 
Secondly, the experts admitted that cities should be ambitious and courageous, with ideas and development projects fearlessly “passing by” their country. 
And thirdly, the experts discussed the attraction of foreign students and professionals, as well as the readiness of the universities, companies and society to welcome and host them. Participants in the discussion concluded that entrepreneurs are already employing and willing to employ foreign specialists, and educational institutions are becoming more open. The discussion leader also highlighted the activities planned in the NextGen Microcities project, namely the introduction of a new type of marketing into educational institutions to attract young people of the Z generation (born in the mid-1990s and younger). 

NextGen Microcities kick-off event in Ventspils, photo by Valmiera Development Agency

At the conclusion of the discussion, the experts called on Latvian cities and municipalities to develop closer cooperation with vocational schools and universities, thus engaging more proactively with the talents and keeping them in the region.
The second panel discussion was dedicated to the role and importance of educational technologies and the strengthening of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics) as major elements in promoting the digital literacy of future workers. The discussion was led by Inga Pāvula, the Head of Methodological Unit of Ventspils City Council Education Department as well as the Senior Expert of the national project School 2030. The participants of the panel were Vineta Melngārša, Director of Valmiera Vocational School, Raitis Roze, Deputy Director of Ventspils Digital Centre, and Dita Lašinska, Head of Science Centre “Kurzemes Democentrs” (Ventspils High Technology Park). In this panel discussion the participants came to two important lessons.
First of all, the immense need to change the motivation and thinking of employees in the education sector from a fixed mindset (I stick to what I know, feedback and criticism are personal and failure is the limit of my abilities) to growth-oriented mindset (I can learn to do anything I want, I like to try new things and failure is an opportunity to grow).
Secondly, the unanswered question of motivation that makes people choose STEAM as their career path. Experts asked rhetorical questions about whether the decision of a young person in favor of STEAM would be changed by a mandatory physics exam and comparison of schools’ results of examinations, or whether solutions based on an in-depth study of the students who had chosen STEAM should be introduced.

Kick-off event opened by Jānis Baiks, the mayor of Valmiera city, photo by Valmiera Development Agency

The final panel discussion was dedicated to a very interesting topic - attracting foreign direct investment to cities. The chair of the panel discussion was Imants Sarmulis, CEO of the Ventspils Freeport Authority. The participants of the panel were Jānis Baiks, Mayor and Chairman of Valmiera City Council, Jānis Vītoliņš, First Deputy Chairman of the Ventspils City Council for Infrastructure Affairs, and Ivars Eglājs, Chairman of the Board of Ventspils High Technology Park.
The participants discussed a number of issues related to the image and policy of the Latvian state as a whole and which significantly influenced the possibilities of every city and municipality to attract investments. The unclear Latvian state brand in general, the assessment of Latvia and the Baltic States as a front-line area by foreign investors, the current difficulties for foreign companies to open accounts with banks and to receive loans for project implementation, as well as the low level of EU funding for the construction of industrial buildings were listed as very serious obstacles. 
At the conclusion of the discussion, representatives of both Ventspils and Valmiera confirmed their commitment to continue to foster industrial growth in cities. They also emphasized the importance of co-operation, which would lead to the development of urban marketing strategies within the NextGen project to attract foreign investment.
The project “Next Generation Micro Cities of Europe” (NextGen Microcities) will enable Ventspils and Valmiera to introduce and test new approaches to job creation. One of the tasks of the NextGen project will be to share the results as well as the ready-made solutions with other Latvian and European cities.

Panel discussion at the NextGen Microcities kick-off event, photo by Valmiera Development Agency


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