PICTURE this scene.
You’re the owner of a digital business based in Shoreditch, at the heart of Tech City. Your firm has enjoyed rapid growth and you want to expand outside the overheated South East. So where do your thoughts turn? To Manchester? Birmingham? Edinburgh? Newcastle?
Absolutely not. You’ve noticed that the far-sighted digital entrepreneurs of Yorkshire have their own “embassy” on your doorstep.
So you pop inside for a coffee. You are immediately won over by the passion of Yorkshire’s tech ambassadors, who tell you everything you need to know about how to invest in our region. You’re really impressed that Yorkshire has had the vision and ambition to establish a physical presence in one of the biggest global clusters for technology businesses.
You soon conclude that there’s only one place to establish a base outside London. Yorkshire towers above its regional rivals.
This story is pure fantasy. There is no formal Yorkshire technology embassy in Shoreditch or, as far as I am aware, any plans to establish one. There is, in fact, the distinct lack of a powerful body to press the case for Yorkshire’s technology sector on a national or global scale.
Technology firms in other regions are more fortunate. Manchester Digital has been banging the drum for North West digital firms for 17 years. The not-for-profit group works tirelessly to promote the North West as a great place to live and work and its membership ranges from start-ups to global corporates.
The group’s members know that their subscription fee is helping to tell the world about the merits of setting up an operation in the North West. The economic benefits for the North West have been considerable.
Firms in the North East can rely on the Digital Union to make their case to overseas investors. The union is a collective of digital and creative businesses who have pooled their time and talents for the greater good.
But who will speak for Yorkshire? In a competitive world, there can be little doubt that we are losing out to the North West and North East because we don’t have a single group to make the region’s case.
The stunning success of companies such as Sky Betting & Gaming and Callcredit is a testament to our rich talent base. This year’s Leeds Digital Festival hosted more tech events in a week than San Francisco.
However, as Stuart Clarke, the director of Leeds Digital Festival, observed, many tech companies in Yorkshire are still struggling to find staff.
Others have been forced to send work overseas, or across the Pennines, where the Manchester Digital team will welcome opportunities with open arms.
If you’re a tech magnate and you want to invest in Yorkshire, who do you call? And if you can’t find the right person to speak to, what do you do? The answer is obvious. You pick up the phone and speak to Newcastle and Manchester instead. They’ve got a dedicated team ready to help you.
The success of Leeds Digital Festival highlights the lack of co-ordinated activity at the heart of the fastest-growing part of our economy. It seems incredible, for instance, that the organisers of this year’s digital festival were only confident that they could stage the event three weeks before it was due to start. It’s hard to imagine the organisers of a similar event in Manchester encountering these problems. So what we need is a bold, confident, not-for-profit trade body that lobbies on behalf of Yorkshire’s digital sector.
A Yorkshire embassy in Shoreditch would surely be affordable if the big players clubbed together. I can picture it now; there would be a launch event in Tech City featuring the brightest and best of the region’s talent.
The embassy would host networking events for the great and good of Tech City and organise regular “trade missions” to Yorkshire. It would more than pay for itself within a matter of months. Investors who had once headed to rival regions would suddenly be spotted renting space in our region’s towns and cities, where the quality of life is world class and the talent pool is growing. That is the dream, who will turn it into reality?