The observation of business in Cardiff comes right after the government announcement that Wales has been named one of the fastest growing economies in the UK. With a £60bn worth, exporting has been instrumental in pushing Wales forward.
Treasury chief secretary Elizabeth Truss, said: “Whether it’s globally renowned Welsh food or advanced technology, the UK government wants Wales to sell even more of what it has to offer around the world.
“The Welsh economy continues to grow, in part thanks to the strong export economy here. That’s why the UK government is investing hundreds of millions of pounds in Wales and we are fully committed to ensuring Welsh businesses are able to benefit from the independent trade deals we are preparing for after Brexit.”
In a move that will support business in Cardiff and nationwide, the government raised the Welsh government’s budget by £1.2bn. Additionally, £615m is to be invested in Cardiff and Swansea deals over the next 20 years.
As always with Look beyond London, we wanted to hear first-hand accounts from those doing business in Cardiff to see how they view the city.
American firm Alert Logic, founded in Texas, selected Cardiff as its European headquarters and bypassed London. Offering an explanation why, David Howorth, senior VP, said: “After an extensive search, and a lot of analysis, we chose Cardiff because we would be able to access the specialist skills that would be required to scale the business.
“We were also impressed by the proactive support shown by Cardiff city council and the Welsh government.”
He added that, as a company expanding internationally, the cost of skills and office space made doing business in Cardiff far more attractive than the capital. That said, he praised the transport links in place to access London if required.
“Over the past four years we have seen a significant influx of IT, cloud, cyber-related businesses, many of these startups. These companies are choosing to set up in Cardiff for many of the same reasons that motivated Alert Logic to choose Cardiff,” Howorth continued.
“In addition, when compared to other locations, Cardiff is an affordable city for people looking for a higher quality of life than can be found in similar large cities in the UK.”
He built on his earlier praise for the Welsh government and said support and willingness from officials has been impressive. One such example was through the government’s collaboration with the University of South Wales, which looks to reduce the cyber skills shortage.
“Support from the Welsh government, a partner on the National Cyber Security Academy, and the educational institutions in Wales has created job opportunities that entice graduates to stay in the area after graduating, working at companies within their chosen industry,” he said.
Reflecting on the difference between business in Cardiff and the US, he said the main challenges faced by companies are on a national level, in terms of accessing skills overseas. He also called for more effort to pull foreign businesses like Alert Logic into Cardiff.
“Sheffield should invest in better infrastructure, improving our roads and rail links, and a good airport to really put Sheffield on the map. This would make it easier for us to export and make deliveries faster and more efficiently.”
Operating in a totally different sector, we heard from Tim Powell, PR director of creative communications company Orchard. For Orchard, running a business in Cardiff was all about the culture and environment it could provide.
“We’re a creative, content and communications business bringing ideas to life, so we need a youthful city with a vibrant economy and great quality of life,” said Powell.
“There’s a buoyant media set up here, enabling us to produce TV programmes and work extensively in both Welsh and English languages. The business community refers to Cardiff as ‘the village’ in that it’s tight knit and generally supportive, and it’s easy to escape – we’re the nearest capital to London after all!”
Powell highlighted the Welsh government devolution as a key development that’s supported Orchard’s development. It invested in a £1m 17,000 sq ft headquarters through the Economic Growth Fund, based just adjacent to the railway.
“The last 20 years has seen a big focus on Cardiff – last year we hosted the biggest global sporting event of the year, in terms of profile, when UEFA brought the Champions League Final to Cardiff, and Orchard was busy on nine separate events for five different clients,” he said.
“London is unique in the global business community, but Cardiff is two hours from that, and we’re seeing a lot of tech, financial, professional services and creative organisations relocating here, attracted by the lower relative costs, ease of navigation, a strong talent pool and a more balanced lifestyle.”
He echoed Howorth’s thoughts that skilled young talent can appreciate having a city on the doorstep, with Cardiff retaining a high level of its students.
Looking at potential for growth of business in Cardiff, Powell added: “In global terms, the proximity of Cardiff to Bristol and Bath presents a real opportunity to promote the ‘cities of the Severn’ to an international audience. Of course, we want to retain our unique Welsh identity, but a critical mass comprising these major visitor attractions and business centres could create a real power base in the west that would make a compelling case for investment, and attract more young entrepreneurs.
“Cardiff’s expected to grow faster than any other major UK city, but with a large number of homes planned, local authorities need to make sure the infrastructure keeps pace, so we don’t end up with some of the traffic issues a city like Dublin gets.”
On the next page, we hear more on doing business in Cardiff from the founder of a decade-old estate agent, the FD of an autism care specialist and the MD of an insurance comparison site.
“Cambridge businesses, as a rule, are amazing at achieving and terrible at promoting themselves. This is endearing, but also frustrating. I don’t know how to fix this, but I wish more people could hear about the amazing stuff I see at startup and business exhibitions.”