Birmingham – there’s plenty to shout about
Last Friday (20th June) was the Annual General Meeting of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership, the public-private partnership set up in our sub-region to drive economic growth and, in particular, create and safeguard jobs and wealth for both the people of the city and the wider area we are connected to.Impressively, over 200 people attended to hear about progress over the last year and discuss plans for the next 12 months (you can find out more about GBS LEP here: http://centreofenterprise.com).
For me, spending a whole day on the prosperity agenda was a welcome opportunity to attend to my “second job” as Director of Economy as, not without some justification, a number of you may well have been wondering if I was becoming a ‘one trick pony’ given the necessary level of preoccupation with school-related matters over the last couple of months. So, as well as attending the AGM, I also supported (in my role as Company Secretary) the LEP Board meeting held straight afterwards and, later in the day, I joined a city council workshop arranged to consider how national policy on economic growth might develop or change following the 2015 General Election.
And such a day reminded me that, as a city, we must not lose sight of the positive progress being made beyond those very serious issues that, nonetheless, are taking too much of the spotlight. As we know, Birmingham is a hugely diverse, young, growing and talented city and, whilst we know that such a mix brings challenges, with those challenges also come great opportunities.
Key amongst these is the potential to promote and grow our economy and ensure Birmingham is the leading choice amongst Britain’s regional cities not only for business, but also for tourists. And we are making very real progress – so let’s the figures speak for themselves.
Marketing Birmingham, which has a major responsibility for attracting investment and visitors to the area, recently reported that almost 6,000 jobs were created or safeguarded by foreign investment into the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP area in the last year – an increase of 68% on the previous year. A record 4,337 new jobs were created in 2013/14, almost double that of the previous year, with a further 1,663 protected. This record jobs boost is worth £362 million to the economy – rising from £298 million in 2012/13.
Investors are clearly backing Birmingham and international recognition of our offer is growing. Birmingham was recently awarded Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) ‘Destination of the Future’ by the FDI Association at the prestigious World Forum Awards in Shanghai. It was also lauded as ‘Best Place to Invest in the UK’ by the highly regarded US investor magazine, Site Selection. Now, these publications may not be what you first reach for when browsing the magazine shelves of your local newsagent but, be assured, this is important recognition of the achievements of the city region (dare I say Greater Birmingham? Yes I do!) and we need to be loud and proud in trumpeting this enviable position.
So, what is behind our growing attraction for investors? Looking again to the figures, investment has been fuelled in good part, by growth in the advanced manufacturing and digital sectors. A quarter of FDI projects in 2013/14 came from creative, digital and tech firms – primarily from small, ambitious start-ups. So much so that Birmingham was also recently named the most entrepreneurial city in the UK outside the capital and a ‘start up hotspot’ by StartUp UK. Indeed, Birmingham’s potential to attract and grow ambitious, entrepreneurial businesses, particularly in the tech sector, is significant. Greater Birmingham is already home to 6,000 tech firms employing nearly 40,000 people. These firms boost the region’s economy by in excess of £1.6 billion every year.
So, it’s no surprise that, as part of a drive to boost these figures further, Marketing Birmingham last week launched a creative campaign to position the city as a highly credible competitor and alternative to London for tech investment. The #TechBrum campaign sees Birmingham take over Old Street Tube Station with a high-impact advertising campaign, designed to grab the attention of digital entrepreneurs. It is quite possibly that we can attract 10,000+ new tech jobs by 2020 as the digital boom spreads from London to the regions. As I have noted previously, the BBC’s announcement that it will base its new digital innovation team in the city speaks volumes for our potential to take the mantle as the UK’s digital industries hub. In making his announcement BBC Director-General Tony Hall said: “This is just the start – but make no mistake, if you’re interested in new skills and digital innovation, this is the place to be.” We are undoubtedly one to watch. Exciting times indeed.
But as we know, a thriving business community is just one part of building a successful local economy. Improving understanding of the city’s offer and not inconsiderable appeal also relies on getting more people here to experience it. And here again, progress is being made. Birmingham attracted more international visits last year than ever before according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). There were almost one million visits to the city last year (941,000) – an increase of 228,000 on 2012’s figure. Visitors to the area contributed a huge £5.1 billion to the local economy in 2012, an increase of 11% since 2006. This supported more than 61,000 jobs. Without doubt, tourism remains a key industry for the city and one that contributes to our national and global reputation almost as much as it does to our economy.
And for those who live in the city, there are yet more reasons to be proud to call Birmingham home. This year Birmingham was ranked as having the highest quality of life of any UK city outside of the capital by the Mercer Quality of Living Report. Jointly placed with Rome, Birmingham saw off global competition from hotspots such as Los Angeles and Dubai. Yes, you’d better believe it.
The city’s momentum is surely building with next year set to be one of the biggest and most exciting periods for Birmingham in over a decade. New Street Station will be completed and its retail ‘top’, Grand Central, will open anchored by a four-storey, 250,000 sq ft John Lewis store, the chain’s biggest unit outside the capital. The Mailbox’s £50 million redevelopment will be unveiled, while the £150million Resorts World complex by the NEC – complete with cinema, four-star hotel and more than 60 shops and restaurants will open its doors – and in the process create 1,150 jobs.
Add to this Rugby World Cup at Villa Park, the England v Australia Ashes Test Match at Edgbaston, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s 25th anniversary, the 300th anniversary of Birmingham Cathedral and the 50th anniversary’s of both the Rotunda and the Ikon art gallery and they all add up to a pretty exciting year.
So, like all big and diverse cities, we have our challenges and while they cannot be under-estimated, we must be conscious and proud of the unique draw we have as a global city – and take pride in being Birmingham (and take on those who talk us down without doing anything to help). Talking the place up isn’t about resorting to empty rhetoric: there is a great story to tell – and we should be confident in promoting our image and potential in order that we build the platform from which we can tackle successfully those challenges that we have yet to crack.
So, get the message out: we have a strong reputation for being business-friendly and are truly progressive in our aspirations.