Wolverhampton aims to 'make it happen' for business
Wolverhampton has declared it is open for business.
Councillor Roger Lawrence, Leader of Wolverhampton City Council, addresses local business leaders at the Wolverhampton.
From fledgling firms just getting started on the road to success to multi-million pound development companies, Wolverhampton is making sure they all know that the city aims to support them as it turns itself into a economic powerhouse in the region.
And that ambition is backed up by a new study that shows Wolverhampton’s economy is set to outperform the rest of the UK over the coming years.
The forecast was made in the Wolverhampton Economic Review that was launched a breakfast event attended by more than 150 members of the city’s business community.
It was kicking off Wolverhampton's first Business Week, and keynote speaker William Keegan CBE, senior economic commentator at The Observer, urged the city to get its story known and recognised nationally.
Leader of Wolverhampton City Council, Councillor Roger Lawrence, said: “This forecast recognises the strength in depth of Wolverhampton’s economy.
"It’s just the first of series of positive stories for the city that we hope to announce over the coming months.
“It’s important to understand that making this happen won’t just be a matter of attracting strategic businesses with a high growth potential. It’s also about supporting Wolverhampton’s home-grown entrepreneurs to develop and grow their businesses, to innovate and become more internationally competitive. "
Mr Lawrence outlined the efforts being made to make the city a centre for entrepreneurship and growth.
From work on skills to a business hub, bringing together business experts and council officers as a single source for advice for companies, the council has put itself at the heart of efforts to drive growth and enterprise in Wolverhampton.
Mr Lawrence said Wolverhampton would aim to ‘punch above its weight’ but was also working closely with other organisations across the region in areas such as transport.
And he cited the success of the council’s work with Staffordshire County Council and South Staffordshire Council in persuading Jaguar Land Rover to base its new £500 million engine factory on the i54 development site on city/county border. Now nearing completion, and already gearing up to produce engines early next year, the factory will eventually create around 1,400 jobs.
To focus attention on the work going on in the city to encourage regeneration and business creation, the week comprises a string of events, from a global trade fair and a jobs fair to conferences targeted at the aerospace and development industries.
To launch the event, the breakfast meeting was held yesterday at the GTG Training Centre, in Bearing Drive, attracting scores of people from the worlds of business, politics, education and local government.
Welcomed by John Wood, a director of Black Country-based global engineering group Caparo Industries, the guests were told what was happening in the city to encourage an economic renaissance.
Mr Wood, a co-opted private sector member on the Wolverhampton City Board, said: “The benefits of the partnership between the private and public sectors in Wolverhampton are there for everyone to see.
“To take just one example, a £57 million public investment at i54 bred £600 million in private investment – and created the conditions for Wolverhampton to become a major centre of world-class manufacturing.
"Wolverhampton’s already home to some of the UK’s top businesses and cutting-edge industries, like aerospace and research. Some 137 companies with a turnover of at least £1 million have invested here and we want to encourage more to come and share in our success.
“We’re a business-friendly city with a can-do attitude. Wolverhampton Business Week is all about bringing people together to plan and shape a better future for the city and to create a something that all of us who live and work here want to see – prosperity for all."
Councillor Lawrence said the business week was partly about attracting strategic businesses with a high growth potential and the job and supply chain opportunities they bring.
“It is also about supporting Wolverhampton’s home-grown entrepreneurs to develop and grow their businesses – and helping businesses of every side to innovate and become more internationally competitive.
“Our marketing slogan is ‘Wolverhampton – making it happen’ and there’s ample evidence to show that it’s grounded in fact.”
He said that in recent years, the city had attracted more than £1 billion in private and public sector investment.
Also attending yesterday's launch event were representatives of major employers from Wolverhampton and across the region, including Jaguar Land Rover, UTC Aerospace Systems, Hadley Group, Santander and Steelway.
Marc Fleetham, director of business solutions at the University of Wolverhampton, was among those on a panel at yesterday's breakfast event, fielding a range of questions from a large audience.
"There must have been around 100 people, including business leaders and representatives from Wolverhampton Council. That's a pretty good audience for a breakfast meeting, particularly on a Monday morning.
"But it just underlined the degree of interest and commitment in this event. It was fabulous to see and to take part in. This is of course just the start of a week of events, but this is the first time something like this has been run with this degree of co-ordination and structure.
"It is also fantastic in terms of the work that everyone is doing in Wolverhampton as part of 'Making it Happen', which is the theme of the week.
"This week is about both talking to businesses outside the city about the opportunities here but also talking to business people within the city, from those looking to start-up their own enterprise to those looking to invest and expand here."
Mr Fleetham added: "This week has brought together a broad spectrum of organisations such as the Wolverhampton Business Champions and the City Board, but it is really being driven by Wolverhampton City Council.
"The council is co-ordinating those efforts to increase opportunities for businesses as well as raising aspirations.
"And it's not just about business, but about things like domestic housing to make sure we can accommodate people we want to attract here.
"There were a lot of questions during the morning about skills and about procurement, particularly how local businesses can secure work with big organisations such as the council and the university.
"But another big area of discussion is what we can do to ensure that the talent we breed here stays here, so that we can provide the opportunities for progress and growth that will keep those young people in this area.
"I can't recall the last time I was at an event where there was such a positive atmosphere," he added.
"It was exceptional, everyone there was signed up to the agenda, they want to be part of this growing attitude across the city that Wolverhampton is a place to do business."
Also talking at the launch event was Scott Thomson, managing director of the Thompson Group, which designs and installs security, fire, communications and life safety systems for commercial and industrial clients across the UK, ranging from CCTV, fire and intruder alarms to nurse and warden call systems.
The original two partners started the business in 1995 with just one van a host of specialist tools and has built Thompson Group into a multi-million pound hi-tech business with three offices across the UK, a fleet of vans and more than 70 staff.
Mr Thompson said he wished he'd know about support available to new businesses when he'd started and hailed the city as a base for enterprise; "It's great to do business in Wolverhampton," he said.
Matt Grayson, head of marketing and communications at Wolverhampton Wanderers, was equally enthusiastic about the success of the breakfast event and of Business Week as a whole. "This is a great opportunity to showcase all the really positive work going on between the public sector and the private sector.
"It was also a great opportunity for us as a football club to talk about Compton Park, a partnership project that has been of benefit to the whole city."
As well as a new training ground for Wolves the project involved a new building for St Edmund's Catholic School, an estate of houses built by Redrow – the housebuilding firm headed by Wolves owner Steve Morgan – and allowed the University of Wolverhampton to invest in a major building programme in the city centre.
That includes a new £18m business school currently under construction and a £25million science block.
Mr Grayson is also one of the Wolverhampton Business Champions – a team of senior executives from major companies in the city who work as ambassadors for Wolverhampton – and sits on the city's new Economic Growth Board which is responsible for putting together an economic growth plan to deliver more jobs and address barriers to growth.
He said: "The message is that Wolverhampton means business. This week is an opportunity to demonstrate how that is taking place.
"We can shine a light on the all the positive things that are going on in Wolverhampton in terms of investment, encouraging business and the opportunities that are being created here."
Plans are already in the pipeline for a second Wolverhampton business week to be held next year and as Mr Fleetham said the city will be shouting up its successes between now and then.
"It is ingrained in us as people from the Black Country not to shout enough about our successes, but we have great successes and we need to raise our voices about them."