West cities to become new powerhouses

Finding new opportunities has been my life’s work and is in essence what I do for a living.

Being Entrepreneur in Residence at the British Library in London gives me an insight into emerging businesses and SMEs, so understanding where new opportunities might emerge is vital.

In our property division at Fear Group we have long studied emerging areas where we feel investment might offer beneficial returns.

We analyse trends globally in an effort to locate hotspots around the world and our research department is the envy of many competitors.

 We understood why the channel tunnel ‘would’ be built at a time when many said it wouldn’t, and invested ahead of most others.

We predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1980s, largely due to military overspending and lack of enterprise.

We also predicted China’s rise way before it was considered ‘obvious’. In 2009 our radar descended on Newport in South Wales.

A small Welsh city of around 141,000 inhabitants.

It had been a main port for distributing coal from the Welsh coalfields in Victorian times, but as the coal industry declined its fortunes did too.

It’s fair to say Newport struggled with its identity and was seen as a ‘very’ poor relation to Bristol, Bath, Cardiff & Swansea.

However my gut feeling and confirmation by my research team, made me think this was all about to change.

To support our view we are about to invest around £50m in a new city centre development initiative on land we purchased in 2010 and are also looking at developing a new factory elsewhere in the city, potentially employing 300 workers in the science and technology sector with an investment value approaching £100m.

The impact of the recent Nato summit should not be underestimated, nor should the city’s hosting of The Ryder Cup in 2012, or the fact that it has the only velodrome in Wales.

The images of Barack Obama, the first serving US President to visit Wales, talking to school children in the City will long live in our memories and provides confidence that Newport and the new powerhouse region is a place attracting interest from many quarters, including my own businesses I have to say.

Availability of land with competitive values, excellent national and international access, and with a public/private partnership determined to work together in the interests of the Newport communities, we believe Newport is truly rising, which is why Will Godfrey and I have co authored this article and encourage investors to come and look at what Newport and it’s surrounding area has to offer.

As I said at the beginning, finding new opportunities has been my life’s work and I would not be investing in Newport if I didn’t believe it had a very bright future and Will Godfrey wouldn’t have taken the tough job of delivering a better City for its people either.

Will Godfrey, chief executive of Newport City Council, explains why he thinks Newport could be the next powerhouse.

When I joined Newport City Council in January 2013 it was clear the city had huge potential. What we needed was better co-ordination of the different voices and a clear strategy to develop the city and market it to a broader audience. We are making real progress, planning for a bright future and ensuring Newport finally takes its place as an international city ready for challenges of the 21st Century. In September Newport welcomed 60 world leaders to the 2014 Nato Summit, the largest diplomatic event ever staged in the UK. Hosted at Newport’s Celtic Manor Resort, it put the city on the international stage, showing Newport has the ability, infrastructure and energy to host a major global event, enhancing our already growing reputation as a city able to deliver.

The city has faced many challenges. A deep recession and being squeezed between Bristol in the east and Cardiff in the west are just two which come to mind, however times and are changing. Newport truly is a “city on the rise” Awarded city status in 2002, it’s landscape has changed dramatically over the last decade as the economy has transitioned from a traditional manufacturing base to one rooted in the high value digital and advanced technology sectors. Completed projects and investments have delivered huge transformation to the city. These include a world class university campus, state-of-the-art business premises, a new railway station, revamped indoor market, new bus station, iconic architecture and a new waterfront district providing riverside homes and leisure opportunities. We also host Europe’s largest data warehouse and leading players in the cyber security industry.

A new economic development partnership-the Newport Economic Network-bringing together Newport City Council, the business community, University of South Wales and Welsh Government has been created to steer the city forward. Soon Newport will be home to the UK’s first software academy and there is determination to create a sustainable, vibrant economy to improve the lives of our nearly 150,000 residents. The game-changing investment for the city is Friars Walk, a multi-million pound retail and leisure development due to open by Christmas 2105, the development is over 390,000 sq ft and includes a full offer department store, multiplex cinema, wide range of shops and restaurants, all supported by a new car park and bus station. This is the most significant change in the skyline of the city centre for more than 50 years.

The council took the bold and innovative decision to finance the needs of this project. We obtained a loan facility of up to £90 million for the scheme from the Public Works Loan Board, releasing these funds to Queensbury Real Estate, our development partner. This will be repaid back to the council at a commercial rate of interest when the development is completed. This is just the beginning of a £250m regeneration programme supporting the emergence of new businesses.

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