Digital Lancashire, the trade body for digital business in Lancashire, has brought council leaders and officials to the city for a tour of digital businesses at Lancaster University and in the city centre. The aim of the tour was to showcase digital businesses and homegrown digital talent and to discuss ways in which the councils could help digital businesses in the City meet several key challenges.
Michael Green, Cabinet Member for Economic Development at Lancashire County Council, and officers from Lancaster, Preston and Burnley, heard from companies they visited, including Fat Media, NuBlue, Relative Insight, Yordas Group and Factored, that city-based digital businesses faced two key challenges: finding and retaining talent with the right digital skills and finding suitable buildings and office space in which to grow and develop their businesses.
Michael Gibson, Director of Miralis Data and Chair of Digital Lancashire says, “Officials were told about a Lancaster-based business that has recently created 20 new roles in another city because suitable office space could not be found locally; another digital business that cannot find suitable office space with a flexible lease in Lancaster, so it has moved out and is car-sharing its staff to Kendal and back every day; and two others are looking at moving from the city altogether with the potential loss of 100 jobs if the right space doesn’t become available. Thanks to Lancaster University and a foundation of successful digital companies, over 800 well-paid jobs have been created in the digital economy in Lancaster which boosts other city businesses. However, we have to do more to create modern, collaborative workspaces and to develop, train and retain talent or we will lose this fast-growing part of our local economy.”
Similar stories were told by several of the businesses based at the University’s InfoLab21. Very many of the highly successful, cutting-edge businesses based at the University need new premises in order to continue to grow and thrive but, again, cannot find the space in the City suitable to move into.
The digital economy in Lancaster is thriving. For example, Relative Insight, which recently received substantial investment from the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund, has won clients such as Disney, Sky and Unilever; Vibe Tickets, who’ve raised nearly £1 million to fund growth, is creating substantial jobs at The Storey; Fat Media employs 75 people at its White Cross base through clients across the UK and around the world; and others such as SQ Digital, who employ over 40 people at its Church Street base, have brought an old, city centre building back to useful, economic life.
Mark Thwaite, Head of Communications for Digital Lancashire says, “Digital businesses grow much faster than non-digital businesses, so office requirements change more quickly. Furthermore, digital customers have certain expectation of what their suppliers will look like – modern, fresh, bright, well-located. Digital businesses want to meet those expectations and the expectations of staff who themselves want to work in well-appointed, digitally-appropriate workspaces. If we can open up great spaces to the amazing businesses that we have in Lancaster their employees will spend in the city, build lives and raise families in the local area, and help to create the vibrant economy of the future that we all need. If don’t look after these businesses, we imperil that future.”