The West Midlands – once the cradle of the Industrial Revolution – is emerging as a political and economic juggernaut in the 21st Century. Foreign and domestic investors continue to see the region as an attractive alternative to London. Joseph Moore, Senior Account Executive at Copper Consultancy, explores five reasons why investors should turn their attention to the West Midlands.
Historically known as ‘the workshop of the world’, the West Midlands continues to attract global attention and funding. The region is home to the UK’s second city, Birmingham, as well as Coventry, Wolverhampton and numerous towns, villages and hamlets scattered across 5,000 square miles of the UK’s former industrial heartland.
The region, however, has a perception issue. This was recently borne out in an ill-judged Tweet by the BBC Archives Twitter account: “Birmingham was bidding to host the 1992 Olympic Games. Yes, Birmingham. Yes, the Olympic Games”. The Tweet appeared to disparage Birmingham and play up to old prejudices concerning the region’s largest and most populous city.
These perceptions are old hat. The region and its population of 5.7 million is forging a new and innovative path in a post-industrial world, leading the way in 5G technology, autonomous vehicles and electric transportation.
Here are our top five reasons why investors should be paying close attention to the West Midlands.
1. Foreign Direct Investment
The West Midlands continues to hold the title of the UK’s leading destination for foreign investors outside of London and the South East. During 2019/20, 157 new FDI projects were recorded in the region. As a destination for FDI, the area is known for its prowess in advanced manufacturing, automotive software and computer and business services.
In a post-COVID world, the West Midlands is set to provide a blueprint for the UK’s recovery as a whole. Indeed, the Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, has recently stated that, “the region’s distinctive set of unique assets provide the essential preconditions for an effective long-term economic recovery”. With major office developments such as Trinity Point and Paradise in Birmingham and the i10 in Wolverhampton, the region is readying for the post-COVID restart.
It is said that all roads lead to Rome. In 2020, all transport links could be said to lead to the heart of the West Midlands, Birmingham. The city of a thousand trades, the second biggest in the country and the largest in the West Midlands, will be home to two of HS2’s flagship sustainable stations, Curzon Street Station in the city centre and the Interchange Station in Solihull. The 134 miles of track between Birmingham and London will speed commuters from the capital to the second city in just 41 minutes.
Future High Speed North connections will link the West Midlands to the likes of Manchester, Hull, Sheffield and Leeds to create an intricate network of economic activity and mobility.
Undoubtedly, this will make the West Midlands an ideal destination for professionals commuting to and from London, or the North, and businesses looking to reduce the cost of their overheads by renting commercial office space outside of the capital.
In addition to Birmingham’s nationwide rail connectivity, the region is home to Birmingham International Airport (BHX), which connects tourists and business professionals alike to over 150 destinations including Dublin, Vienna, Prague and Geneva. While flights may be limited owing to COVID-19 restrictions, direct flights will no doubt regain their importance as international businesses return to the office and global professional events, such as MIPIM, resume.
If rail and air travel are not your ticket, the region has close proximity to London and is within a four-hour drive for 90% of the UK population.
3. Graduate employment
No other region in the UK is more suited to graduate employment than the West Midlands. With 32 per cent of the population under the age of 25 (1.3 million people) and eight high-profile universities and research centres producing 55,000 graduates per year, the region has a vast talent pool which businesses can readily draw upon. This already diverse and well-educated section of society is continually bolstered by waves of young professionals and graduates migrating out of London to the region.
The likes of the University of Birmingham, the University of Wolverhampton and Coventry University provide a continuous source of fresh talent to the labour market. Businesses looking to maintain a dynamic workforce would do well to turn their attention to the West Midlands.
4. Quality of life
Deciding to invest in bricks and mortar in a region is about more than having ready access to efficient transport links and fresh employee talent. To retain staff, the quality of life in an area needs to offer a valid reason to stay. Fortunately, the West Midlands has reasons to stay in abundance. The region attracts around 120 million visitors per year who come to sample the region’s culturally diverse events and internationally renowned attractions such as the Frankfurt Christmas Market in Birmingham, Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon and musical prowess at The Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton.
If that wasn’t reason enough to lay down roots in the region, recent Quality of Life rankings by Mercer put Birmingham ahead of Dubai, Los Angeles, Osaka and Shanghai. The region will soon play host to the 2022 Commonwealth Games, while Coventry will be the 2021 UK City of Culture, bringing with it additional opportunities for investment in the region.
Contributing to the quality of life of residents and workers alike, green spaces play a starring role in life in the West Midlands. Birmingham for instance is home to 571 parks across 3,500 hectares, with 10 having been awarded Green Flag status, while in late 2019 a Government review backed plans for a new urban National Park in the West Midlands. More recently, the Black Country found itself joining the ranks of Lesbos in Greece and Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater as a UNESCO Global Geopark, with the likes of Wren’s Nest nature reserve, Walsall Arboretum and the Red House Glass Cone earning global recognition.
The West Midlands is a global competitor capable of holding its own on the world stage.
5. An innovation hub
The West Midlands has a long history of innovation, having been the cradle of the Industrial Revolution following the invention of the steam engine in Birmingham in 1775. Today, that tradition of invention and creativity continues unabated. The region is home to the UK’s first multi-city 5G test bed trial, which will pave the way for the future rollout of 5G across the country. The testing of 5G in the region will support high-tech start-ups and provide the West Midlands with a means of supporting the testing of autonomous vehicles and smart city projects in the coming decades.
Taking innovative infrastructure to the next step, the West Midlands is leading real-world, open road Connected and Autonomous Vehicle (CAV) operations as the UK’s first Future Mobility Zone. As part of the trial, Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) will pilot the use of new modes of transport, services and technologies, demonstrating the extent to which the West Midlands is the innovation hub for businesses looking to invest in a post-COVID world.
Welcome to the West Midlands
Copper recently brought together several leading voices in the region’s development sphere for a webinar discussion on the West Midland’s growth potential in the post-COVID era. Copper Consultancy believes that inward investment in the West Midlands will gather pace, as public and private bodies turn to infrastructure and innovative technologies to ‘restart’ the region’s economy.
Investors making the move to the West Midlands will quickly find that ours is a region that is not homogenous and each town, city and village is distinct from its neighbour. The residents, businesses and interested stakeholders all hold differing views on what will best contribute to their community. As such, investors looking to safeguard their investments in the region will need to create unique local buy-in for their projects to ensure that local communities are part of the wider success narrative of programmes of work.
Developers will need to manoeuvre delicately to overcome the hurdles of local opposition and to create local advocates for development schemes. Copper Consultancy’s approach to strategic communications and engagement enables infrastructure and development projects to secure societal licence to operate. With our home-grown Midlands team, we can provide a unique insight into the region’s people, culture and history.
If you want to find out more about how Copper can generate public advocacy for your investment and development schemes in the West Midlands, please contact Fiona.firstname.lastname@example.org or Joseph.Moore@Copperconsultancy.com.