Why is Sheffield, and the North in general, great for business?

Excerpt taken from: Office space boom in Northern Powerhouse
Lilli Hender, April 27th 2016

The office space market is soaring in the North of England: Across the five key ‘Northern Powerhouse’ cities, searches on Office Genie were up 56% in the first quarter of 2016 (vs Q4 2015).

Searches in the capital, still seen firmly as the UK’s most thriving business hotspot, only increased by 21% in the same period.

Of the five major cities, Liverpool experienced the biggest boost, with searches up a whopping 90% in the first three months of this year. Sheffield came next with demand up 78%, and was followed by Leeds (77%), Newcastle Upon Tyne (54%) and Manchester (29%).

Many of these cities boast a proud industrial past, but these figures show the future for the North could well lie in its growing population of Office Genie users: Small, forward-thinking businesses working in tech, digital and other innovative sectors.

All this seems promising for the future of innovation in the North of England. George Osborne promised to “rebalance our national economy” and ensure the “future of the North is as bright, if not brighter, than other parts of the UK.”

The Chancellor’s recent budget promised much, from investment in infrastructure to science and innovation audits, but most of this has yet to be delivered. In spite of this the office space market in the North of England is booming; a strong sign of vibrant local economies: It appears the North of England is doing well anyway!

We’ve been discussing our findings, and the Northern Powerhouse in general, with businesses in these cities, to get a view of how business is actually developing, and how people feel about the notion:

The view from Sheffield
After Liverpool, Sheffield saw the next largest growth in demand [for offoce space] (78%). We spoke to Amy Stephenson, founder of Sheffield-based Human Recruitment, who commented:

Why is Sheffield, and the North in general, great for business?
There are so many reasons why Sheffield is such a great city for business it’s difficult to know where to start! Firstly, there’s the sheer diversity of different companies and talented people working in the city, then there’s the people. Sheffield has a reputation for being the world’s largest village, where everyone knows, helps and supports each other.

Secondly, we have a brilliant retention rate for those graduating from our two great universities, this provides not only a great talent pipeline for businesses but also ensures the city’s social scene remains diverse.

Finally, there’s the city’s location itself. With the Peak District nearby, a bustling vibrant city centre, and plenty of things going on, it makes a great place for businesses. Of course, let’s not forget the talented and passionate people who are proud to call Sheffield home!

What do you think about the idea of the Northern Powerhouse?
In principle, it’s a great idea. There is a huge amount of talented individuals who are not only working in Sheffield, but in cities and towns across the North. A joined up strategy, which allows business opportunities to be shared across all areas, is something that has been needed for a long time.

At the same time, it seems a little short-sighted from the Government to relocate the department responsible for delivering the project from Sheffield to London!

I am concerned that a two-tier economy may emerge and cities such as Manchester and Leeds will come to represent the North as a whole, just as London is perceived to represent the whole of the South, with other towns becoming little more than commuter stops.

How could it impact your business and the city?
As a recruitment specialist, it’s highly likely that as businesses continue to invest in the North, they will need to attract and retain experienced and skilled members of staff. There’s likely to be some clear business benefits not only to my company but also to the broader local economy.

If it helps to reduce the ‘brain drain’ and encourage talent to stay in the North, great. If, however, it means that the unique identities and business cultures found in smaller towns and cities (Sheffield and Rotherham for example) are lost, not so great.

Put simply, we need greater investment in infrastructure; the transport connections across the Pennines need to be improved. I find it a little bizarre that it can often take less time to travel to cities like Birmingham than Manchester because of the poor road infrastructure. The M67 was first conceived back in the 1960s and even today it still only covers five miles!

HS3 will alleviate pressure on the M62, but there needs to be better East-West connections which provide broader benefits to the whole of the North.

We’ve seen a significant rise in demand for office space in Sheffield, do you have any thoughts as to why this could be?
Over the past couple of decades Sheffield has reinvented itself and the local economy has evolved from one being almost solely dependent on the heavy industries such as mining and steel to a much more diverse business hub. It’s home to a range of established global brands, a centre of engineering excellence, as well as highly innovative, fast-growing technology and creative companies.

It’s a great city in which to live and work in and it comes as no surprise that office space is in high demand.

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Why is Sheffield, and the North in general, great for business?