Business and civic leaders the length and breadth of the country are grappling with what form the economic recovery for their regions will take as they emerge from the covid-19 lockdown.
Employers are having to cope with an ever-changing landscape, both economically and from a public safety perspective, from one week to the next while simultaneously finding ways to ensure their businesses stay afloat.
To examine some of the key issues, business networking group MIPIM Connect has launched a series of virtual roundtable events and begun by shining a light on the West Midlands.
The region has much to look forward to such as Coventry City of Culture next year and the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham with more long-term projects like HS2 providing their own economic lift.
The discussion was entitled ‘Examining the UK’s regional recovery – the West Midlands’.
The panel comprised:
– Nathan Cornish, group director at Urban Splash
– Ghislaine Halpenny, director of strategy and external affairs at the British Property Federation
– Marc Reeves, Midlands marketplace publisher for BusinessLive publisher Reach plc and panel chairman
– Andy Street, West Midlands Mayor
– Trudi Sully, impact director for manufacturing at the Construction Innovation Hub
BusinessLive is your home for business news from around the country – and you can stay in touch with all the latest news through our email alerts.
You can sign up to receive daily morning news bulletins from every region we cover and to weekly email bulletins covering key economic sectors from manufacturing to technology and enterprise. And we’ll send out breaking news alerts for any stories we think you can’t miss.
Visit our email preference centre to sign up to all the latest news from BusinessLive.
Panelists were asked for their views on the recovery in the region and how the business landscape could look over the coming months and years.
Trudi Sully works for the Construction Innovation Hub, a £72 million, four-year programme funded by the Government which aims to act as a catalyst for the construction sector to become more productive and efficient.
She told the panel discussion there were “huge opportunities” for growth in the West Midlands and scope for businesses to expand.
“We have all had to take a step back and change what we do, how we work and how we interact with each other so it’s a great time for construction to look at how we can be more effective,” she said.
“There’s a huge growth and momentum in the Midlands and opportunity to expand our capabilities in manufacturing for construction that will deliver the infrastructure we need and support other industries that are in challenging environments.”
Mr Reeves highlighted the fact the past few months of lockdown had given business the chance to take stock and rethink..
Ms Sully added: “Initially, there was a lot of concern with construction employees being furloughed but that has given others the chance to take a moment and look at how they work and capitalize on this time we’ve had to plan how we can deliver more, of better quality and in a faster time frame.”
West Midlands Mayor Andy Street was asked to summarise what the opportunities were for the region and what was the nature of the recovery he would be leading as mayor.
“The recovery has to do two things,” he told the panel.
“It has to say what were the winning ingredients we already had and how are they still relevant?
“A good example of that would be the improving quality of our talent so everything we do to improve the skill level is absolutely mission critical.
“Then you say what are the sectors that obviously have new opportunities?
“That is just as relevant now as it was before the pandemic so issues such as the electrification of the automotive sector, there’s a unique opportunity there which we have to get behind.
“But what are the new things we have to do? These are, in particular, making sure we use public money to drive our investment.
“The big daddy of them all was HS2 and it was brilliant that, during the heart of the lockdown, we got the Notice to Proceed.
“That is a vast sum of public cash investing in jobs and innovation in the West Midlands.”
Ghislaine Halpenny is a director with the British Property Federation which is a representative body for the commercial real estate sector.
She said one of the interesting elements of the pandemic was the positioning of real estate as part of the recovery.
“It’s absolutely crucial that recovery is inclusive and doesn’t rest on the shoulders of real estate and the investors but they stand ready to be part of creating those enjoyable places for people to live and work,” she told the panel.
“Our most recent figures show there are 15,000 build-to-rent units either in planning, under construction or completed in the West Midlands alone.
“The region is one of the youngest in Europe so there’s a huge market and potential there so absolutely there’s enthusiasm and positivity although it’s a little bit tentative at the moment.”
Nathan Cornish works for property development group Urban Splash whose place in Birmingham was established with its renovations of The Rotunda and Fort Dunlop buildings.
The Manchester-based company is now on site near Edgbaston Reservoir building the Port Loop residential development.
He told the panel there had been a lot of difficult moments over the past few months but the mood had turned to positivity now.
“The house market seems to be very good and there’s a lot of demand for high-quality products and outdoor spaces,” he said.
“It’s been well documented in the press that people realise the value of the outdoors which we have always incorporated into our schemes.
“I am not confident to the point of being arrogant, we need to be careful over the next few months, but the market looks very good at the moment.”