Courtney Fingar on Navigating the Future of FDI and Economic Development

Courtney Fingar stands at the forefront of foreign direct investment (FDI) and economic development communications. With a career spanning over two decades, including her role as the founder of Fingar Direct Investment and contributions to Forbes, Courtney has cultivated a deep understanding of the global investment landscape. Through her work, she guides investment promoters in crafting compelling narratives about their locations. 

In this interview, we learn about her experiences, the evolution of FDI, and the strategies countries and cities should adopt to thrive in a competitive global market.

Courtney, with over two decades of experience in FDI and economic development, what motivated you to establish Fingar Direct Investment, and how does your approach differ from traditional investment promotion strategies?

After a fairly long career working full-time as a journalist, and after running two of the primary media outlets covering FDI, I reached a crossroad where I would have needed to either carry on in media or stay in the world of FDI. I decided not only to stay in FDI, but to delve more deeply into it. I decided that by going independent, I could play a more active, direct and well-rounded role in the FDI market and essentially be more of a practitioner than a spectator.

Through Fingar Direct Investment, I provide a range of services from communications advisory and investment attraction for investment promotions agencies and other entities to event moderation and content support. I still keep my hand in journalism though, serving as a contributing editor for a fantastic B2B publishing company called Real Asset Media, where we connect the dots between traditional FDI and real asset investment, and I am a contributor to Forbes, writing a regular column on FDI.

In addition, I am very proud to be a senior advisor for the World Association of Investment Promotion Agencies, supporting the essential work of the world’s leading FDI association.

I believe what sets me apart from other FDI consultants is my media and communications experience, as well as my extensive yet high-level global network which consists of all stakeholders in the investment chain.

From your extensive experience and current role as a contributor to Forbes, could you share your perspective on the evolving trends in FDI post-pandemic, and how cities and countries should adapt to remain competitive?

In the wake of the pandemic and the supply-chain shocks it brought, global value chains are being reconfigured – creating both challenges and opportunities. Cities and countries need to think carefully about how and where they fit into the new value chains. There are trends around nearshoring and friendshoring that many locations can benefit from (although some other locations may face detrimental impacts).

Additional macro trends such as rapid digitalisation, the AI skills race, and the sustainability imperative also need to be at the heart of all investment promotion and economic development strategies.

You’ve emphasized the importance of strategic storytelling in communicating a location’s FDI story. Can you share an example where effective storytelling significantly impacted an investment decision?

I am pleased to be contributing a chapter to an upcoming book about FDI case studies, specifically in cities, which will be published by Routledge and is being edited by leading FDI experts. The chapter tells the story of how UkraineInvest, the national IPA of Ukraine, attracted a major investment from an Irish multinational, Kingspan, just months after the full-scale invasion by Russia.

At a time when the agency was having to deal with the emergency of keeping its staff, and existing investors, calm and supported, they also took an important message to market: the time is now to invest in Ukraine. They urged companies not to wait, to go ahead and play an important role in supporting the country and assisting with its reconstruction.

Kingspan was among the companies that heeded that call, though it was not the only one.

Given your veteran status in the transition from print to digital media, how do you see digital transformation shaping the future of investment promotion and place branding?

Digital tools provide a great opportunity for IPAs to get their messages to investors in an effective way, as well as to field enquiries, provide quick-touch information and provide aftercare. AI-led marketing and media tools give greater insights into audience engagement and can help IPAs (like other advertisers) get better return on their marketing investment and to see how their messages resonate. These tools offer a form of lead generation (though can not fully replace more direct person-led outreach).

IPAs should lean into the possibilities of digital tools, while not relying on them completely.

How important is the collaboration between the public and private sectors in attracting foreign investment, and could you provide an instance where this synergy led to successful investment promotion?

Public-private collaboration is essential. To carry out a successful economic development strategy, all the key stakeholders need to be aligned – which of course is often easier said than done. This synergy usually requires the private sector to see inbound FDI as an opportunity rather than a threat, which in turn can be impacted by political rhetoric about FDI.

I would probably struggle to pinpoint an example where this has been deployed perfectly, as this level of alignment is very difficult to achieve, however.

What advice would you give to emerging economies looking to attract foreign investment, especially in terms of building a compelling and trustworthy place brand?

It helps first and foremost to have a good product to market, so everything starts with putting in the hard work to make the investment environment as attractive as possible.

Having legal and regulatory certainty and security for investors is essential – that is where the trust comes from and how it is earned.

Policy stability that survives political changes also helps provide reassurance and build trust.

Beyond that, it is important that investors are supported throughout the investment life cycle and that aftercare is always front of mind. They should not be forgotten once an investment is made.

As a specialist in data journalism, how do you think data-driven storytelling influences the perception and attractiveness of locations for investors?

Data is the backbone of any valuable journalistic analysis, especially in business journalism. It certainly has an impact on perceptions of location attractiveness and quite frankly, it should.

If a company is making what is inherently a strategic business decision, that needs to be based on sound, data-led analysis. Of course, there is always context to numbers and that is also important, but the numbers matter.

In action: Courtney at the Global Soft Power Summit 2024 in London, February 2024, discussing the future of fdi, investment and trade with Kate Taylor Tett (Director, GREAT Britain and Northern Ireland Campaign), Jennifer Mackinlay (General Manager Europe and Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner, Austrade) and Giovanni Sacchi (Director, Italian Trade Agency).

Throughout your career, what has been the most unexpected lesson you’ve learned about the world of FDI and economic development?

Simply how much it matters. I am passionate about FDI because it has a direct impact on people’s lives. It is not some nerdy esoteric topic, it has real-world implications and is wrapped up deeply with politics, economics, security and society itself.

What emerging trends or technologies do you believe will significantly impact FDI and place branding in the next five years?

Artificial intelligence will continue to be the biggest disruptor, in terms of its impacts on how companies operate, how and where people work, and on investment promotion itself.

We can’t and don’t know now the full utility of AI and how it will continue to evolve – and I am by now means an expert on technology – but it will touch everything, and IPAs and place brand experts need to be attuned to it.

Lastly, what do you think about TPBO, especially our Benchmarking work – the city and country observatories?

Further to my earlier comment about the importance of data and analysis, benchmarking is an important data-based way for investment agencies to understand and assess competencies as well as weaknesses and for companies to make smart investment decisions, so it is great that you are doing this important work.

Thank you, Courtney!

Connect with Courtney on LinkedIn or explore more about her insights and services here.


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