THE BUSINESS COMMUNITY HERE FARES CONSIDERABLY BETTER THAN AVERAGE IN THE UK. THE REASONS ARE VARIED, INCLUDING A FORTUITOUS LOCATION AS WELL AS FOCUSED EFFORTS BY CITY LEADERS.
For several reasons, the economic forecast for Peterborough is strong. This is easily read by its current economic output (GVA), employment statistics and other empirically identifiable factors such as business start-ups. But certain geographic and cultural features naturally lend themselves to creating a robust economic future, as do initiatives by political and business leaders that are strongly focused on growth.
The city weathered the 2008-2009 and 2011-2012 recessions with better-than-average business failure and unemployment statistics. By 2012, the number of new business start-ups numbered 1381 and in 2013 it was 1503. While the city’s history pegged its fortunes to a handful of industries (brick-making, transportation, etc.) the economy of the 21st century is one characterised by diversity, innovative small and medium-sized enterprise (SMEs) and a handful of large, global businesses (including an IKEA distribution facility). According to the Peterborough Telegraph, the company that currently is the biggest employer in the city is BGL Group, one of the UK’s largest consumer insurance and financial services firms.
What stimulates this diversity of enterprise, resilience and growth? Consider the following constellation of forces driving the emergence of Peterborough as a growth capital for business, population and development:
Entrepreneurialism – The nature of business in the Peterborough economy is entrepreneurial, with 70 per cent of local businesses employing four or fewer people, according to the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Growth Prospectus (Economic Position Statement, August 2012). A poll conducted at the beginning of 2015 by the business financing group Liberis found that 69 per cent of SMEs are confident about the business climate, 51 per cent of them expect their businesses to grow and 26 are looking for funding to help with that growth.
Business support – Opportunity Peterborough (OP) is a skills-matching service, marketing programme, planning and economic data collection-analyses service working to the benefit of the local economy.
Transportation and warehousing – The city has historically attracted inward investment due to its location and proximity to rail and road networks, focusing on warehousing and distribution centres for national and global companies.
Industry diversity – Six manufacturing firms are strong players in the local economy, but the area is home to companies in a broader variety of industry sectors that include food and beverages, retailing, healthcare, professional and financial services, and environmental businesses. Technology businesses are currently underrepresented – which suggests further opportunity for growth. Also, due to its affiliation with both Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire, the city benefits from being in the spheres of commerce operating and based in both areas.
Homebuilding – The city has outpaced the rest of the country in homebuilding, fostering a strong construction industry; according to the council’s five year supply of deliverable housing report, the construction of 1,216 homes in 2013 will be followed by increases up to 2,089 homes (per year) in 2019, accounting for new-built dwellings as well as office conversions to flats. Already robust construction is attributable to a strong link between the Homes and Communities Agency, Affordable Housing Providers and the Peterborough City Council. Projected numbers of 20,000 new jobs and 25,000 new homes over the next decade (source: Peterborough City Council Local Investment Plan 2011) mean this industry will remain very active for the foreseeable future.
Additionally, Peterborough’s population skews towards youthful (the average age is lower than that of the UK overall) and slightly more diverse. While lacking its own major universities and with a current outflow of students to universities outside the city, a “multiversity” initiative brings educational resources from a range of institutions to provide knowledge that is targeted to local business needs. Also, the Sustainable Peterborough Plan takes a measured, strategic approach to land use, preservation and development over the next 50 years.
As should be clear, this is not accidental or happenstance growth. A confluence of good geography, history and political and commercial leadership focus on making the region attractive to businesses, people, institutions and investment.