This article draws on critiques of ‘global cities’ to conceptualize Birmingham, the UK’s second largest metropole, as a ‘global’ city by highlighting forms of economic globalization that draw on the city’s residents, their histories and their social and cultural networks. The article illustrates some of the diversity and significance of minority ethnic economic activity within Birmingham and the potential this holds for its future economic development, focusing on examples from three transnational networks (Chinese business networks, ethnic food manufacturing and the Bhangra music industry). The article signals a rather different understanding of ‘global’ as it relates to economic advantage, transnationalism and ethnic diversity within cities in general, and Birmingham in particular. We suggest that this different understanding of the global has important policy implications, not simply in terms of economic representations of the city, but also in terms of developing the possibilities of such transnational networks and engaging with the constraints facing them. We argue that encouraging a more relational way of thinking about cities like Birmingham has the potential for advancing social wellbeing by influencing socio‐economic policy and practice. We use the example of Birmingham, therefore, to engage broader debates about alternative paths of ‘global’ economic, social and cultural investment for UK (and other) cities.