The Midlands region is working hard to promote itself as an attractive location to international investors. Professor Judith Lamie, Pro Vice-Chancellor – External Affairs at the University of Derby, discusses the power of the Midlands cities working collaboratively to enhance its reputation further on the global stage.
The perfect place
Boasting a £207 billion economy, more than 800,000 businesses, a number of high-performing universities, as well as a rich heritage, the Midlands is a region to be proud of and a place to invest.
This was evidenced last year when the Midlands Engine region recorded its highest number of foreign direct investment (FDI) projects in the past decade.
With an 8% increase in 2017 compared to the previous year – up from 130 to 140 – the region also reportedly secured over 10,000 jobs, making it the second highest region behind the Northern Powerhouse.
According to EY’s 2018 UK Attractiveness Survey, the West Midlands was the only UK area to have witnessed growth in both foreign investment projects and employment, yet the East Midlands, while attracting a record level of FDI in 2017 – an increase of 16% – was ranked in the bottom three.
While it is clear the Midlands is successfully using and converting its international reputation into direct investment from overseas, the figures highlight there is still much work to be done to ensure the whole of the Midlands region is attractive to international investors, especially if we are to keep up with London, the Northern Powerhouse and the southern region of England.
The power of collaboration
Universities, businesses, councils, and Local Enterprise Partnerships have come together to form the Midlands Engine to drive economic growth for our region, attract international investment, secure global opportunities and promote the Midlands as a great place to work, live, visit and study.
In line with the Engine’s mission, I have been part of a number of delegations to China to further strengthen collaborations with the country, which has the world’s second biggest economy and largest population.
The power of these trips is strength in numbers. As a delegation, comprising multiple agencies from across the region, it means when we go out to market to encourage inward investment and present the Midlands as competitive overseas, we have key players from education (able to talk about skills development, the apprenticeship agenda, and research and innovation) as well as businesses and industry around the table.
To affect change, you need to bring together the ‘Holy Trinity’ of government, education and business, allowing you to break down barriers, build relationships, and move forward with strategic partnerships – this is vital if we are to continue to champion the Midlands as a place to invest.
MIPIM 2019 – the annual global property event in Cannes – was a great example of the region working together to position itself to investors across the globe. Derby and Derbyshire‘s largest ever team attended this year’s event, supporting the Midlands UK’s delegation in highlighting more than £11 billion of ambitious projects and investment opportunities to over 24,000 attendees, from more than 100 countries.
We can achieve much more leverage and impact by working in close collaboration with colleagues across the Midlands Engine. It enhances our international competitiveness because it enhances our reputation as a whole.
The need to be targeted
The higher education sector is fast-paced, ever-changing and globally competitive. Universities are working hard to make their mark internationally, particularly in China, which means finding room in the marketplace is a challenge.
However, rather than seeing this as a threat, institutions should see it as an opportunity to articulate who they are and demonstrate their individual areas of excellence.
At Derby, we have a clear international strategy. In November 2017, we launched a dedicated team based in Shanghai, China to help develop and strengthen our global footprint, support recruitment partners, and provide a positive presence in China for Derby across all educational platforms.
The University already has academic collaboration agreements with several key universities in China – including the University of Jiangsu, Jiangxi University of Technology, Heifei University, and Tongji University – and these have been developed as a result of aligning mutually beneficial agreements, particularly in the areas of engineering and technology.
We are also developing relationships with institutions in Toyota City, Japan, as a result of our involvement with the 20th anniversary of the twinning agreement between Derbyshire and Toyota City.
Universities and businesses alike have to be targeted and focused in their international activity in order to build strong partnerships and, ultimately, diversify their income streams, as well as enhance their reputation on the global stage.
The impact of Brexit
Britain is undergoing a period of political upheaval and, as of yet, it is unclear what is to happen. However, the key is ensuring, as a region, we have a plan in place to maximise international trade and manufacturing exports post-Brexit.
The Midlands has many strengths from cutting-edge research to excellent trade and investment opportunities, but we cannot be modest; we need to be very clear and succinct in our offer in order to keep pace with our competitors.
As a region, we need to embrace our connections to the international economy, and be proactive in our overseas investment missions to ensure we remain attractive to major investors across the world.