Among regional French politicians, Montpellier's 61-year-old mayor, Georges Freche, stands out. While most see provincial postings as stepping stones to plum jobs in Paris, Freche has preferred to stay put. In two decades at City Hall, he has transformed the city in southeastern France from a sleepy backwater into a hive of high-tech activity.
It was a good move. As government becomes increasingly decentralized, local politicians in France are starting to wield ever more power. And Freche, a graduate of elite French business school Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales, understood early on that in an era of globalization, it was vital to attract multinational companies to Montpellier if the region's economy was to grow.
So in 1985, the Socialist politician began pitching his city's case to investors across Europe and in the U.S. Freche also opened 11 business parks around the city and modernized road and air links with the rest of France and Europe.
That's why Dell Computer Corp. chose Montpellier as home for its Southern European operations and why Palm Computing Europe has its headquarters there. Also, thanks to Freche's creation of incubator Cap Alpha in 1987, Montpellier now boasts scores of thriving high-tech outfits. This city of 238,000 is now the fastest-growing in France.