Having compared all the different regions in the UK, Vipul Vachani, founder of India-based plastic and metal mould company Jaival, decided that the Midlands provided the best expansion opportunity for his company.
‘Initially, we started with an open mind when looking at the different regions. We thought about London for a while, but then decided that the Midlands was much more suitable.’
For Vachani, the high concentration of aerospace businesses in the area meant that he would be closer to his customers. It was a strategic move that Vachani says has since paid off. Initially moving to Loughborough in 2005, and then to Mansfield this year, the company has seen year-on-year growth of 20 per cent.
But Vachani believes that the region has more to offer than just convenient transport links. ‘One of the other very important things about the area is being so close to the universities. There’s a lot of research work you can carry out jointly with universities and the Midlands has some of the best available,’ he adds.
Indeed, the relationship between business and universities appears to be thriving in the area. Nottingham, for example, has the UK’s largest bioscience innovation centre, BioCity, a joint venture between the East Midlands Development Agency and Nottingham’s two universities, which houses almost 50 companies.
A place for ideas
Bart van der Meer, vice president of European sales at US software company Endosoft, opened an office in the Midlands for similar reasons to Vachani. His company is based in the Leicester Innovation Centre, which acts as a three-year home for start-ups.
‘The location is perfect. We got a lot of help finding it, the rates are very competitive and it is ideally placed next to the university. The other reason we chose Leicester was because it is in the centre of the UK, and is close to Birmingham and East Midlands airports. So wherever our customers are we can get to them quickly.’
Since the company was set up in the region over two years ago, the number of employees has now risen to five and van der Meer hopes to expand his workforce in the next 12 months. ‘There is currently a major regeneration of Leicester underway with a great deal of office space becoming available over the next couple of years so this should remain an ideal base for us,’ he adds.
David Wallace, director at the East Midlands Development Agency, admits that the Midlands might not be the right fit for all companies. However, its density of universities, lower overheads than the South East (33 per cent less for office space and 12 per cent lower labour costs), not to mention its strengths in the technology and manufacturing sectors, mean that for many it is a first choice.
‘We get a lot of companies that are developing new technologies moving to the region, a large number of which tend to be smaller companies. In fact, the East Midlands has some of the highest levels of R&D investment in the country and in areas such as bio-science, it really has a world-class strength. Plenty of international companies use the region as a European base for their operations; with the A1 and M1 running straight through it, and having the largest freight airports in the country, the region is a particularly appealing spot for international companies.’
In 2007/08, the Midlands attracted over 200 inward investments, creating nearly 10,000 new jobs. Steve Blount, founder of investment group Growth Investment Network East Midlands, says that despite the recession, there are still funding opportunities for young businesses.
‘We concentrate on early-stage and start-up companies,’ adds Blount. ‘I’d say about ten to 20 per cent of the businesses we deal with have moved to the region because of the help and support they can get.’
But the region still has some considerable challenges to overcome. Blount points out that in the East Midlands investment has begun to slow – something which could prove challenging for an area that remains economically disadvantaged compared to the rest of the country (three years ago the city of Nottingham was dubbed the most crime-ridden place in the country).
However, for many the positives still outweigh the negatives. Whether it’s international companies looking for a European presence, growing companies seeking investment or small businesses wanting a cheap and convenient place to start up, the Midlands appears to offer a thriving home for all.
Nicola Fleet-Milne moved to Birmingham as a student from London. After graduating she moved home briefly, but was soon drawn back to the region. Given the cultural advantages of the country’s second largest city, home to many prestigious sporting events including cricket test matches at Edgbaston as well as having the Royal Shakespeare Company on the doorstep, she decided to stay.
Change of pace
In 2005 she set up her eponymous property company, which has since steadily grown to employing nine people. ‘I wouldn’t want to move back to London, from a business perspective you can do it all a lot easier here and there’s a better quality of life. For example, my commute to work is only four minutes and rent is a lot cheaper,’ she says.
‘To know people and become known quickly is far more achievable in a smaller city. When you go to events, you don’t have to fight for it so hard.’
Despite the fact that Fleet-Milne believe that it is easier to start and build a business in the Midlands, she doesn’t lack the sort ambition often found in the capital. ‘Being right in the middle of the country means that I’ll be well placed when I decide to open up more offices in the north and south,’ she adds.