Howay in…

May 3, 2016

With fierce global competition to secure new national and international investors, Alison Cowie looks at how NewcastleGateshead Initiative – operating as Invest Newcastle – works with the business community to make sure Newcastle is not only in the mix but stands out from the crowd

Inward investment is seen as essential to all major cities to provide jobs, boost national and international recognition and support regional economic growth.

Newcastle is no exception and NewcastleGateshead Initiative (NGI) – operating under the Invest Newcastle brand, in partnership with Newcastle City Council and private enterprise – is playing a critical role in securing new investment.

According to NGI chief executive Sarah Stewart, inward investment fits neatly within the wider responsibility of the organisation .

“Our driving mission that underlines everything we do at NGI is about inspiring people to visit and to live, learn, work and invest in and around NewcastleGateshead,” she says.

“We work to change attitudes and perceptions and build the profile of NewcastleGateshead and the wider region. By creating a positive view that this is a place to live, work and do business, we will become more attractive for investment.”

Since its inception, the inward investment team at NewcastleGateshead Initiative has secured 62 new investments; creating or safeguarding 2549 jobs and is actively working with a further 180 businesses to bring investment to the area. More recently, the Invest Newcastle team has brought 23 new business projects into the region in 2015-2016 and has helped create and safeguard more than 450 jobs – with more successes expected.

The Invest Newcastle team attends a number of national and international exhibitions and events each year to identify potential projects and to showcase Newcastle and the wider region to investors.

Catherine Walker, inward investment director at Invest Newcastle, explains: “A lot of our work is about shifting perceptions and letting people know about the location, the connectivity, our research and knowledge assets, the talent that exists and the ethos of the people.”

To ensure maximum results, key markets have been identified for the team to focus their efforts on, with India, the USA, Germany, France and the UK seen as priorities, alongside a ‘watching brief’ on the Scandinavian countries.

Similarly, the key sectors that complement Newcastle’s industry strengths are targeted, as Catherine explains: “We work a lot in offshore due to the world-class facilities we have on the north bank of the Tyne, as well as in healthcare and medical sciences with Newcastle Science Central and the National Centre for Ageing Science and Innovation being key assets.

She continues: “The tech and digital sector is another area we have been focusing on as there is lot of activity in the city in this area – helped by the announcement in the latest budget of funding for a National Institute for Smart Data Innovation in Newcastle.”

Once potential investors and projects are identified, the Invest Newcastle team at NGI offers a range of services to make sure those involved can access the right people and the right information to come to a decision as to whether Newcastle and the surrounding area is the right option for them.

The team hosts familiarisation visits for investors, often during periods when Newcastle is seeing a high level of activity, such as when the Great North Run’s millionth finisher was celebrated or during last year’s Rugby World Cup.

According to Catherine, what companies are looking for when expanding operations to a new area can differ between national and international businesses.

“International businesses tend to want political certainty and know how easy it is to do business here,” she explains, “while for national companies, it’s more about connectivity – whether that’s transport, people or digital connectivity.”

One thing that remains an important factor for both national and international companies is quality of life for relocating staff, with Newcastle scoring highly in this area.

“Lower costs associated with working and living in Newcastle provide a good starting point, but actually, it’s rarely the end point for a company that decides to move to Newcastle,” reveals Sarah. “Instead, the feedback we get is that people like the compactness of the city, which cuts down on commuting times, as well as the thriving culture that we have here.”

Invest Newcastle sees the region’s business community as essential to attracting inward investment and it works closely with a number of partners from the private sector.

“We use the business community a lot in what we do because they bring an authenticity,” says Sarah. “Having an expert from an industry come and talk to a potential investor about how they’ve been able to establish and grow their own business and recruit the skills they need, here, is very important.”

An Invest Newcastle Advisory Board was created last year to further encourage private and public collaboration and to help shape the inward investment strategy.

The board includes, among others, Mark Thompson, managing partner at Ryder Architecture, Neil McMillan, property development director at Carillion Developments, Fergus Trim, development director at Quorum and Broadoak Asset Management, Andrew Lewis and Tom Warburton from Newcastle City Council, and Michael Spriggs as chairman. Members are tasked with casting a critical eye over the work that Invest Newcastle does, being ambassadors for the region and highlighting potential inward investment opportunities.

Representatives from 12 private sector partners also joined the Invest Newcastle team at MIPIM, an international property and municipal showcase that took place in Cannes in March, to meet potential investors from around the world.

As part of the event, the Invest Newcastle contingent joined forces with representatives from other major cities in the North to showcase the combined force of the Northern Powerhouse – an agenda that continues to build momentum nationally and internationally.

The event proved so successful that Invest Newcastle plans to return to MIPIM next year.

While there is an understandable confidentiality surrounding the ongoing inward investment projects that Invest Newcastle is involved in, some recent success stories include London-based mobile technology specialist mkodo, which has opened a technical hub in Newcastle, and New Zealand software solutions company, Tidy, which has chosen Newcastle for its European headquarters.

Both companies have opened offices in The Core at Newcastle Science Central.

Stuart Godfree, managing director of mkodo, comments: “We are excited to continue the growth of our mobile technology business in the vibrant city of Newcastle. The city has a strong digital sector and excellent universities, with which mkodo can engage to help drive our innovative and proven product range forward.”

Kevin Mann, CEO of Tidy, says: “Locating in Newcastle was an easy choice to make. The city has a buzzing creative and digital community, with global software giants such as Sage Group plc headquartered in the city and fantastic reliable transport links both nationally and internationally. In terms of convenience and culture, the city has everything we were looking for.”

Invest Newcastle is not just about attracting new companies to the city. It also supports businesses with existing links to the North East expand their operations.

Ubisoft, one of the world’s leading publishers of video games, strengthened its presence in Newcastle after choosing to locate a new consumer relationship centre in the city last year.

Sarah Stewart explains: “The company has had a studio in Newcastle for many years but this was no guarantee that senior management would choose the city for its relationship centre. In fact, they had a shortlist of around 15 locations and Catherine and the team worked with Ubisoft for more than two years to land the project.

“The new centre is now located in the Haymarket in Newcastle and Ubisoft is hoping to create hundreds of jobs in the region over the life of its investment.”

Catherine Walker adds: “We want to make companies as ‘sticky’ as possible to the region as this will have an impact on their future investment decisions.”

Such successes help drive the cycle of inward investment on, as Sarah explains: “By attracting people to come and live and work here, it enhances the reputation of the city, which in turn makes it more attractive in the future.”

The helmswoman for NGI also highlights a growing visitor economy, now the region’s fourth largest sector, as reflecting the changing perceptions surrounding the North East, which also helps the cause of inward investment.

“People don’t see Newcastle and the wider region as that smoky place in the North anymore, but as a place they want to be,” she reflects. “But we can’t rest on our laurels; we have to keep moving and working to attract more people and more investment.”