Why Yorkshire will become the UK’s economic powerhouse in the 2020s - Greg Wright

The skyline of Leeds has been transformed over the last decade.  Picture: James Hardisty
The skyline of Leeds has been transformed over the last decade. Picture: James Hardisty
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A decade ago, as I composed my last comment piece of 2009 while sitting in the cavernous old newsroom of The Yorkshire Post, I had good reasons to feel sombre.

The economic world was locked in the deep freeze of the credit crunch.

Workmen were downing tools. Building sites were falling silent as the money ran out – or never appeared – for a host of ostentatious schemes.

There was a palpable air of anxiety. Nobody knew if the Yorkshire corporate world would ever be the same again.

Pessimists feared we would become a drab backwater as the smart money stayed in London.

As cranes vanished from the skyline, few would have dared to predict that, over the next decade, our county would host one of the world’s largest sporting events and a national broadcaster would establish its head office in our region.

These triumphs, in the face of the credit crunch, austerity and Brexit uncertainty, showed that when Yorkshire people put their minds to something, no power on earth can stop them.

Just pause and consider how our region has been transformed over the last decade by private investors who held their nerve because they knew Yorkshire would repay them tenfold.

Stroll around Wellington Place in Leeds, which was once a district to avoid after dark. Today it is home to a business community that rivals anything in the North. Head to Hull, where the waterfront has been reborn in a city that defied the odds to become the cultural capital of Britain, for a year at least.

Wander around the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and admire the work carried out by skilled technicians in a neighbourhood where pickets and police once clashed during the miners’ strike.

Places like Bradford, York, Scarborough, Huddersfield, Beverley, Barnsley, Rotherham, Bridlington, Malton, Halifax and Skipton have all attracted external investors because it makes sense to support our region’s economy.

The superb quality of life and competitive cost make it the perfect location for any global firm looking to branch out beyond the overheated South East.

Those who believed the economic crash would destroy our enterprising spirit have been proved wrong.

When the economy finally thawed, Yorkshire’s skyline became a hive of activity.

The crash created a new mood of realism. In the early years of the century, many projects were built around borrowed money and belonged to the realms of fantasy. Today, if a developer says he or she is going to build something you can generally guarantee that spades will soon be in the ground.

I’m willing to predict the 2020s will be the decade that establishes Yorkshire as the dominant economic region outside London.

There are real grounds for believing this will happen.

Just consider, for example, the dream of building a Massachusetts Institute of Technology of the North, which is supported by Tom Bridges, the Leeds office leader for Arup and a host of other academic and business leaders.

Mr Bridges said: “Greater Boston in Massachusetts has built one of the world’s most dynamic economies based on innovation.

“It is anchored by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and other world-class universities. Britain has a strong heritage in educational excellence and could learn from this example.”

He added: “The UK2070 Commission agrees and has set out a vision to build an MIT of the North with a local team led by the University of Leeds participating in MIT’s programme to learn from the Greater Boston story.”

You should also take heart from listening to Seema Desai, the chief operating officer of iwoca, one of Europe’s largest business lenders, which aims to create up to 100 jobs in Leeds by 2023.

“We wanted to be able to tap into the rich pool of talent outside London,’’ she said. “Leeds is a wonderful city.”

So a merry Christmas and a happy New Year to all our readers and business partners.

I truly hope we will all have a spring in our steps during the brave new world of the 2020s.