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Jan De Silva is CEO of the Toronto Region Board of Trade and Adam Legge is CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.

In a January address to the World Economic Forum, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted that he wants Canada and Canadians to be known as much for our resourcefulness as for our resources. We agree.

Our natural resources are important. They will continue to be a cornerstone of our economy. But resourcefulness, talent and diversity are natural resources, too, and equally critical to our growth and success. Most of these resources reside in our biggest cities, which are home to 49 per cent of our population and generate 52 per cent of our gross domestic product.

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In the 21st century, it's cities and city-regions that will be the primary drivers of the global and Canadian economies. While competition and growth was once country versus country, or corporation versus corporation, in today's globally interconnected economy, it's city versus city.

Around the world, cities are taking action on the opportunities globalization presents. London, New York, Hong Kong and Dubai are globally renowned centres of innovation, migration, culture, wealth and commerce. They are global actors, competing for investment, talent, global events and trade opportunities.

In many respects, cities are like businesses – they need to compete, prosper and grow, or risk getting disrupted by others with more to offer talent and investors. We must make sure our largest metros flourish to win – a case increasingly being made by academics and global think tanks.

The Global Cities Initiative, a joint project of the Brookings Institution and JPMorgan Chase, is helping metropolitan areas leverage their assets to grow their economies, create jobs and strengthen international connections and competitiveness.

This project, comprising top U.S. cities and several international counterparts (including Toronto), encourages city-regions to reorient their economies toward greater engagement in world markets. It helps metropolitan leaders better leverage their global assets by unveiling their economic starting points on key indicators such as exports, foreign direct investment and advanced manufacturing.

That's also the goal of Canada's largest chambers of commerce, who are working together to advocate on behalf of our cities to government and business on issues including talent, trade, competitiveness and strategic economic infrastructure, such as airports.

This week, the chambers and Canadian municipal economic development leaders are meeting in Toronto to learn from the Global Cities Initiative. They will be finding what works in leading global city-regions to create new opportunities to compete globally.

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In many respects, Canada's largest cities are where our greatest challenges and opportunities lie. Unfortunately, we have been slower to recognize the importance of our largest cities and to take the necessary steps to compete on the global stage.

Canadian cities should no longer be content to sit on the sidelines. Canadians should not be content to allow their economy to remain stuck in neutral. Governments are acting, and so must our business community.

In Vancouver, Mayor Gregor Robertson has shown a deep interest and commitment to cementing trade ties with Asian cities. In Calgary, Mayor Naheed Nenshi is working to create access to international markets for natural resources and to promote economic diversification. Mayor Don Iveson has issued a call to action to position Edmonton as a leader in the development, commercialization and distribution of health innovation. The mayors of Montreal and Toronto are co-operating to attract international investment in technology, biotechnology and aerospace.

These are positive steps, but more must be done. While Ottawa is developing strong trade relationships and significant trade agreements, our businesses are underperforming on trade. Today, just 5 per cent of Canadian businesses that can export are doing so. We need to encourage more to go global.

In response to the Global Cities Initiative, the Toronto Region Board of Trade launched a trade accelerator program, TAP GTA, to help more businesses access global markets. There is now interest to take the program national. Business must activate.

If the 21st century is to be the age of cities, then Canada's cities must be present. In many respects, it is Canada's time. We have all the potential and natural resourcefulness to succeed – we just need the initiative to get there.

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Contributors to this article included Michel Leblanc, CEO of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal; Ian Faris, CEO of the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce; Dave Angus, CEO of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce; Janet Riopel, CEO of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce; Iain Black, CEO of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade; and Todd Letts, CEO of the Brampton Board of Trade.

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