No vroom, vroom in Lanarkshire? Even before arriving at the splendidly refurbished Hamilton Town House last week for a business conference organised by Lanarkshire Enterprise Services, it was clear I had an ill-informed impression.
“On the left”, said Bill the chauffeur as we approached the outskirts, “you’ll find one of the BMW showrooms. Up ahead is Mercedes Benz. Oh, there’s the Mazda dealership. And over there you can buy a Maserati.”
Being born and bred in the Irvine Valley in Ayrshire, where sophistication is a mud-spattered Land Rover with a dead sheep in the back, my grasp of luxury transport was limited. But I had not reckoned on such top-ticket high-end wheels clustered round Hamilton.
But then I hadn’t reckoned on the impressive Hamilton Town House, either. Or on the excellent conference, part of a week-long series of events put together for the launch of Choose Lanarkshire, a joint initiative between those hitherto deadly Sgian Dubhs-at-dawn rivals, North and South Lanarkshire Councils.
Even before the conference started, the spirit and organisation of the event was an exemplar for Business Gateway operations across Scotland. And of especial distinction was the design and content professionalism behind its brochures – the 72-page Lanarkshire Business Guide in particular.
Lanarkshire was once the most populous region in Scotland. From the mid-18th century to the 20th century it profited from its rich seams of coal and then steel and heavy engineering.
But perceptions are still clouded by the traumas of Ravenscraig, the 1980s recession, the early 1990s recession and the late 1990s recession which must surely have swept away anything still left standing from the previous de-industrialisation tornados. All that is, apart from the coal bings. These are now protected heritage monuments.
But over the last ten years, small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) have led a business revival. Here the Business Guide is helpfully informed. There are more than 14,000 SMEs located in Lanarkshire, accounting for 48 per cent of the total jobs generated in the area. Annual economic turnover has grown from £17.3 billion in 2004 to £25.5 billion in 2013, a 47 per cent increase that has kept pace with Scotland as a whole.
Top three business sectors (leaving aside those Mercedes-Benz and BMW dealerships) are construction (14 per cent), wholesale, retail and repairs (20 per cent) and professional scientific and technical (13 per cent).
University campuses support almost 400,000 students a year. And these play a critical part in economic development – present and future.
Choose Lanarkshire is a new business, regeneration and inward investment marketing strategy. It will focus on encouraging growth in companies in Lanarkshire and in key sectors with growth potential.
The conference, which drew an audience of more than 100, was chaired by the every-ebullient Ronnie Smith, chief executive of LES since start-up in 2002 and a leading catalyst for the development of Business Gateway services in Lanarkshire.
Speakers included Neil MacDonald who has had a varied and successful business career, ranging across Seaboard Lloyd, Sealand Industries, and more recently Lanark-based aerospace component manufacturer Martin Aerospace. He has been chairman of Scottish Enterprise Lanarkshire and chairman of Clyde Gateway since 2011.
Professor Brian Ashcroft gave a tour de force presentation on the Scottish economy, followed by yours truly from Scot-Buzz. Searching questions from the floor kept speakers on their toes and the event was bracketed by a welcome from Councillor Chris Thompson of South Lanarkshire Council (pictured) and closing thanks from Councillor David Fagan of North Lanarkshire Council.
Said Chris Thompson, “Lanarkshire stands out as an excellent place for business due to its prime location, transport infrastructure, variety and quality of housing and not least our supply of skilled labour.”
This well-organised event (thank you Shona Wilson and team) deserves commendation, both for presenting a strong case for Lanarkshire as a business destination and for setting an example for Business Gateway organisations elsewhere in Scotland. Getting the message across deserves effort and imagination – both were on display here.
And was I driven back to Glasgow in a Maserati? Vroom on as they say in Hamilton…
For more details: visit www.chooseLanarkshire.com
Or email Lynn Gow, Engagement Officer North Lanarkshire Council GowL@northlan.gov.uk
Ken Meek, Project Manager South Lanarkshire Council firstname.lastname@example.org.