Our second New Economy policy is to create the right environment for businesses and local communities in which to flourish. And while Worcestershire may not be a UK leader for tech and innovation, that’s exactly what this shire is striving for.
As our recent Worcestershire Growth report has found, the region has made several moves to gear up its innovation status and support its businesses to thrive, and it would seem that the region’s largest sector, manufacturing, is leading the way.
When thinking about cutting-edge technology, the humble domestic boiler is not likely to be the first thing that springs to mind. But don’t be fooled: one of the UK’s top boiler makers is very high-tech indeed, and it relies on Worcestershire engineering skills to stay ahead of the game.
In 2019 Worcester Bosch became the first UK Company to fit out a factory with 5G, the new mobile technology. “We’re doing a lot around Industry 4.0,” says Carl Arntzen, CEO. “It’s a big topic in Germany, and therefore it’s a big topic in Bosch. We were streaming sensors around the Wi-Fi network, so it was an easy extension to stream data over 5G.”
In the development of the county’s local industrial strategy and vision for 2040, Worcestershire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has found an overwhelming amount of evidence to show how technology is critical to the growth of business in the county.
Worcestershire LEP has already invested in technology-focused initiatives like the Worcestershire 5G Testbed, as well as business launchpads BetaDen and the Kiln, to help local entrepreneurs to innovate and gain a competitive advantage in the national and international marketplace.
The LEP says technology adoption is helping local businesses to improve productivity and create employment. In fact, early findings from Worcestershire’s 5G test bed have shown a 1% to 2% increase in productivity for businesses.
Worcestershire LEP is continuing to invest in local infrastructure and facilities to help boost businesses productivity even further. Major improvements to transport infrastructure through developments like Worcestershire Parkway Station and Kidderminster Railway Station are helping to make the county more physically connected than ever.
Meanwhile, while newly opened projects such as Heart of Worcestershire College’s Duckworth Centre of Engineering are helping companies to develop a more skilled and specialised workforce. “Worcestershire already benefits from high employment in high-technology manufacturing,” says Gary Woodman, Worcestershire LEP’s Chief Executive. “We’re now in a position to help businesses from all sectors to use technology to their advantage, whether it’s through innovations in the latest 5G technologies or through tailored business accelerator programmes like the BetaDen.”
And technology isn’t the only thing on Worcestershire’s agenda, a new initiative run by a group called the Worcestershire 1000 team is aiming to make the region a destination for jobseekers, business leaders and investors.
At the same time, this new approach will aim to highlight how the county is already home to leading brands such as Halfords and Morgan Cars, and host to key UK initiatives including the Worcestershire 5G Consortium. 300 businesses have already signed up as of September 2019.
This year’s top 50 fastest-growing Worcestershire businesses include 19 manufacturing and precision engineering businesses in the list. Combined these companies made more than £1.8bn in the last year under review.
This year’s trend analysis has revealed a remarkable level of sector consolidation across the fast-growing companies in the county, despite efforts to foster industries such as technology. Local policymakers will increasingly have to bear in mind which industries are driving economic growth in Worcestershire.
A concentration of business growth in just a few sectors can help a region such as Worcestershire to become an industrial powerhouse. But it also exposes the economy to the risk of shocks if a high-growth sector is hit by external factors.
Gary Rouse is Director and Head of BDO Worcestershire at BDO.