Our Time Is Now – the West Midlands era

Rob Valentine, Director, Bruntwood - Birmingham

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There is no doubt in my mind that for the West Midlands, the time is now.

There a number of things in our favour. The arrival of HS2, the coming of the Commonwealth Games, the new £250m Midlands Engine Investment Fund, amongst others, are well known and much discussed and documented.

But also the richness of our assets – our leading universities and institutions, the talent we have here, the young population, the connectivity of our region, our businesses from amazing start-ups to global companies who have chosen to build and grow in this region – together with a cross sectoral collective will and desire for excellence - are helping to drive us forward.

What more can be done and how we can work together will be at the heart of this week’s West Midlands Forum for Growth (WMFFG), with leaders and experts from the private, public and academic sectors debating key issues in our growing regional economy.

The day will also address how the city region continues its collaborative approach to harness the opportunities and address the challenges, including skills and training, thrown up by an increasingly uncertain world and seismic societal shifts.

There is increasing confidence to do so, underpinned by so much evidence of success – it’s no surprise that this year’s event is called: ‘The UK’s New Growth Capital’. It reflects my belief that we shouldn’t wait until fast trains and a huge sporting and cultural jamboree to arrive. Tomorrow starts today and we need to think about the future now to ensure we are doing something different, brave and creative with this massive catalyst for change.

This change has to be inclusive to create an avenue to economic opportunity for our citizens. Growth alone is not enough. Only through intentional training, hiring, business development, and place making efforts can we cultivate new local talent and help address issues in our communities.

Science and technology, of course, are key to our regional growth aspirations as well as to the UK’s.

In the West Midlands, job growth in the creative and digital industries is predicted to grow from 72,000 to more than 100,000 in the next decade. It’s a sector seen as vital to the continued success of our economy and is a key part of Metro Mayor Andy Street’s economic strategy. Providing the right environments to stimulate innovation and support growth is also a priority for Bruntwood to bolster entrepreneurship and co-innovation.

At Bruntwood we are committed to enabling growth in knowledge-intensive industries through the provision of world-class physical facilities and support of equally-important partnerships between civic, academic, clinical and private sector organisations.

At the WMFFG, I will be chairing a session with the region’s universities on how they are helping to build the future. I will also be explaining how our own plans for Innovation Birmingham align with the region’s economic strategy by creating a world-leading innovation district. We have all the ingredients, including two complementary and dynamic universities, unrivalled digital connectivity (Birmingham has been chosen as the UK’s test bed for 5G technology) and the promise of high speed rail. We are advancing plans to quadruple the size of Innovation Birmingham over the next three years to create the right spaces and support for early stage and growing tech businesses and nurture the talent and skills the region needs for sustained prosperity.

Our vision is to create a new neighbourhood in the city centre, based on smart city technology and making the best use of natural assets - a live, learn, work environment, mixed use, multi-faceted, safe, inviting and dynamic, a place with first class public realm and public art, as well as new homes.

We believe that the creation of a district, different and distinctive, can be a catalyst for enabling both enterprise and people to flourish. It will create educational, employment and other opportunities. This will be achieved through effective public-private-academic collaboration. This is how the region achieved its reputation as the workshop of the world in the first place and our continuing collaborative efforts to demonstrate that the Midlands is one of the most competitive, attractive and dynamic destinations in the world will continue to reap rewards.

At last year’s event, Mayor Andy Street said the opportunities we have are the best they have been for the last 40 years, being strong in many of the sectors that will be important in the future. Digital, he said, is something that cuts across all areas of the economy and the regions of the world which will be the most successful will be those which are on the front foot.

We at Bruntwood and all of those attending the forum, and indeed further afield, share the common goal of stepping boldly into the future, now.

The West Midlands Forum for Growth is on Tuesday, September 18 in The Vox Centre, Birmingham.

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