The business profile of Birmingham has been exercising my thoughts of late, initially prompted by an email conversation and some pertinent questions posed by a blogger based in the US.
His first was: “So can you sum up Birmingham’s business profile in 150 words?”
I was still thinking on this challenge when The Birmingham Post announced that business would dominate the radical new-look of the newspaper when it is relaunched in the autumn, so these thoughts moved onto a new level.
I’ve also been doing a fair bit of research for another project, looking at the current make up of “business” in Birmingham and the people who work in the city centre.
Having worked on the Post for five years and lived in or just outside the city for almost eight years, I thought I’d got a pretty good handle on what business in Birmingham means.
We’ve got the established and traditional – everything from the legal and financial sectors to the property types and manufacturers – and those starting to make a greater impact and have a bigger influence on Birmingham (the “creative industries”, IT, the arts, tourism).
Historically called the city of a thousand trades, Birmingham has never been easy to pigeon-hole no matter what outdated images endure in some minds.
In all the research and reading around I’ve been doing, there seems a good deal of optimism.
And yet, according to UK Competitiveness Index 2008, Birmingham is losing its appeal as a place to do business.
The city is sliding down the list of the most competitive UK business locations, currently standing at 29th compared to a resurgent Manchester which has made it into the top ten.
What makes Birmingham’s poor showing baffling is that those behind the index are pointing to Manchester’s major strengths in recent years as being:
creative industries…information technology, communications, digital media…Also knowledge-intensive businesses, consultants and financial services….
Aren’t these the same industries that have been flourishing in Birmingham?
Meanwhile, Microsoft and The Future Laboratory have released a study into Birmingham’s future which makes for some interesting and quite heartening reading.
Using Birmingham City Council’s much-vaunted Big City Plan as the basis, the vision for 2033 shows that the landscape once dominated by automobile and aerospace manufacturing, is:
…moving to a next-generation services centre to facilitate financial, legal and business support from localized business hubs.
The full vision certainly sounds an attractive place to do business and work, as well as rest and play.
So, as the Post looks to concentrate on business and seek new platforms to hang its coverage on, are there still grounds for optimism?
The Post’s editor obviously thinks so and his latest blog, a short video giving us glimpse of the newspaper’s new offices at Fort Dunlop (outside of the city centre, the 2033 predictions are already happening) shows that investment in the future is certainly forthcoming.
Other companies in other industries are doing the same. The city has a few new, vibrant trades and professions to add to that historic list.
Yet with all this reading I’m still left with one question.
Can Birmingham’s business profile be restricted to just 150 words?