Quick survey: if you were to start exporting to the UK, where would you choose to have your British headquarters?
If, without thinking, your first, intuitive reaction was “London, of course”, welcome to the club. I thought so, too. After all, isn’t the capital of a country, especially a capital as glamorous as London, a symbol of fame and success?
If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere, or so they say.
Which city makes more business sense?
And it’s a stereotype that ambitious business owners might fall for without even realizing it, myself included. I was thinking of ways I could export to the UK – and to me the UK meant London. After all, I’m a financial trainer and analyst, and London is one of the finance capitals of the world. It made immediate sense to start there, right?
Until I went to Manchester on a Dublin Chamber trade mission. I have to say that Dublin Chamber trade missions have been one of our key export feasibility exercises – it’s ideal to take a look around a country in a business sense when everything is planned for you. Before that trade mission, I thought of Manchester as “that far away Northern city, way up there.”
But it turns out that Manchester, hailed as the second city of England, is one of the fastest-growing cities outside London; it is only a two-hour, £20 train journey from the capital – and there are trains three times per hour. It’s quite central in the UK, much closer to Edinburgh and Scotland, has a massive hinterland and it’s highly accessible from Ireland – from Dublin it takes as long to get to Galway, as it does to Manchester.
Manchester makes a compelling business case
It also turns out, unsurprisingly, that business costs, and costs generally, are a fraction of what they are in London or the southwest. According to Financial Times, city centre rents in Manchester are a third of what they are in London. MIDAS, whose representatives we met during the trade mission, is the inward trade agency for Manchester; it will provide new incoming businesses with one year’s free rent as part of their “Soft Landing” program.
I discovered Manchester “by accident”, thanks to that trade mission. On that two-day visit in May, we visited MediaCityUK, where several BBC departments are located, and the new retail and corporate area of Spinningfields, Manchester’s answer to Canary Wharf or La Défense, as well as Manchester Town Hall – this was made all the more meaningful as it was the Queen’s Jubilee week-end.
And Manchester is a veritable hive of activity. With 20 million consumers within a two-hour drive, it captures 5.9% of inward investment to the UK. It’s the second most important centre for media and professional services. With Manchester university, the city can tap a rich pool of talent and in-demand skills: the university has more postgrad students than any other traditional UK university and 44% of these come from abroad.
The city’s edge in finance strikes close to home for me as you can imagine: “financial and professional services are the biggest business in the city region with numbers employed having grown more by than a third, to some 250,000, over the past decade”, according to another Financial times article. And “economic growth was 1.7 per cent in 2011 and is forecast to be close to 2.5 per cent a year for the next decade, outstripping the UK as a whole.”
I have to say, I was deeply impressed. Not only by the modern, metropolitan aspect of the city, but also by the sheer number of agencies willing to meet and help us. In a previous pos I mentioned MIDAS, UKTI, the Enterprise Europe Network, also Growth Hub and their Finance for Growth conference (links to each), to name just a few.
Not just a one-dimensional city!
I was also impressed by how walkable Manchester is. It’s, of course, smaller than London, much less crowded and expensive, and easier to get around, but it’s also highly connected. It’s a thriving hub of culture and sports, there’s always something happening.
I have been back several times since, and all I can say is, Manchester is the one to watch; it’s an excellent alternative or complement to London if you’re thinking of exporting to the UK.
On one occasion I did take that two-hour trip from Manchester to London and was pleasantly surprised at how my Manchester experience benefitted me greatly when approaching its bigger sister. It is of course, immensely different, in many ways.
However, my business is now making the triangular route of Dublin, Manchester and London a very real part of our geographical reach and if there is one thing for sure, there is lots of help available for anybody else who wants to do so.
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