“Greater Manchester is a very forward thinking place,” Richard says. “When it was clear that the old Regional Development Agencies were going to close, Greater Manchester said ‘we believe there needs to be a business support infrastructure, to encourage people to start and grow’.
“The Government had focused on dealing with high growth businesses, and Greater Manchester said ‘we’ve got a broader base of businesses that are going to contribute to the future of our economy, and we want to make sure that they achieve everything that they can.’”
It was the Manchester Growth Company (MGC) that branded their creation a ‘Growth Hub’, bringing together everything Greater Manchester had to help businesses - both public and private - so that any business could come and get the very best of support available to them, no matter who was providing it.
Richard joined the Group to establish the Business Growth Hub, and it came at the end of his time at the North West Development Agency, capping off a stretch working in companies trading internationally. It was his background and grounding in both public and private sector businesses, and passion for making the local area a better place by encouraging both entrepreneurship and investment, which landed him the job at the helm.
The transition took the best of the ‘old’ guard of business support – teams who were experts in finance and low carbon, for example – and as a not-for-profit company, MGC invested money to bring the concept to life, going back to basics to provide meaningful help which would create jobs and economic growth from the ground up.
Create jobs and economic growth they absolutely did – and continue to do.
Funded by various sources, including the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), more than 7,300 businesses have had support in the last five years, and against a backdrop of the recovery from what has since been termed the ‘great recession’, they have
These statistics demonstrate a very significant return on the investment made over time by funders.
The aim at the outset was simple, and hasn’t changed significantly. Richard and his team wanted businesses to interact with them and be their trusted partner, and leave believing that ‘the Hub has changed my business for the better’. Five years on, they hear those words regularly, at every event they hold.
Growth Hubs have now sprung up all around the country, having been adopted as public policy over the last couple of years, and this team are immensely proud of their involvement in helping to develop and shape the concept, because their model wasn’t driven by policy – it was shaped by the very businesses they’ve sought to assist, and their band of 170 partners who remain involved in the performance of the Growth Hub to this day.
Now a mature and well established organisation, the Hub has set out its immediate priorities to make sure the momentum they’ve created in the local economy can continue to be driven forward.
“The number one thing I want to focus on is getting more of our businesses to think globally, at all stages of their business life cycle,” says Richard. “The opportunity to work internationally is available to more businesses than ever before.”
And the potential for increased level of international trade activity exists in spades in the area, both in volumes and in value – supported by the Export Fund, a £9.5m programme of loans and grants available to help create a step-change in international activity.
Innovation is another Hub priority; remodelling, inventing and transforming the way businesses work, or the products and services they provide. Specifically, making sure they’re able to access specialist help to unlock the innovative potential that exists in their businesses, by helping firms to make greater use of R&D tax credits, by facilitating a collaborative project with all Greater Manchester’s universities, and by taking a member of the Innovate UK team into the Hub itself.
Developing the local workforce and helping to increase the skills base available for businesses form a third priority, with mentoring support available for leaders, specific executive development activities and real investment in workforce development to increase access to local, skilled workers which help business grow.
And sustainable development is also firmly on the agenda, with eco-innovation something the Hub is keen to encourage. Resource management, reducing the use of energy, materials and water to help the environment and create a healthy balance sheet, is also a focus and a low carbon sector group aims to support the more specialist businesses working in this space.
“Alongside that is the work we’ve been doing on sectors – Greater Connected has just finished its first cohort, offering peer to peer support for those in the digital and creative sector,” Richard adds, with additional support for manufacturers and manufacturing champions amongst others which create huge value regionally. He cites the healthcare devolution as creating opportunities across the life sciences sector, which is burgeoning in the region.
“Right now there are huge opportunities for businesses to grow, both domestically and internationally,” Richard says, as he restates his team’s commitment to helping businesses to achieving the most that they can for the firms of Greater Manchester.
“We’ve got a great team of people, and great partnerships in place with Universities, private sector, some of the sector specialists we’ve brought in.
“That collective, integrated response for Greater Manchester continues to make us a really attractive proposition.”