Founding board member Michael Gibson has written an article which has recently been featured on the Hotfoot Design blog.
Lancaster City Council recently commissioned market research from an organisation called Thinking Place to understand what people thought of the city and district and its potential. It asked locals for their views on a range of topics, and on the vast majority of factors, such as schools, safety, leisure and happiness, the city scored very highly and significantly outperformed many other UK towns and cities when posed the same questions. Yet in one important area Lancaster scored very low – confidence.
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The challenge for Lancaster is the danger of being left behind by the big cities. The UN predicts that 68% of people will live in cities by 2050 compared to 55% now. Already the process of agglomeration has begun with tech companies and the digital units of major companies from across the North, such as Auto Trader (Newton-le-Willows), Barclays (Knutsford), Space48 (Warrington) and many more relocating to Manchester from smaller towns with their staff following them.
Lancaster has, and is still suffering from, the same leakage of companies. The biggest example in recent years is Reebok. Starting on the Quay, it grew from Lancaster to become a global business. At one stage over 300 people were employed in the district in marketing, sales, design and warehousing. The closure of its Moor Lane Mills office and its White Lund warehouse and relocation of staff to Manchester saw the loss of a highly-educated, highly-skilled and highly-paid workforce that took with it an estimated £10 million of annual spending power from the heart of the city. Sadly, others have followed, either setting up subsidiaries in London or Manchester or moving altogether.
Thankfully, more companies stay and grow here. Besides Hotfoot, who has heard of Relative Insight, Habicus Group, Cloud Commerce Pro, Accesplanit, Fat Media, Yordas and NuBlue? Few of these companies existed barely a decade ago yet today they employ over 500 people between them and in the wider digital, tech and innovation community over 1,000 are employed in the district.
What makes a thriving cluster?
There are several key ingredients which come together to make a powerful cluster and ensure it continues to grow.
1. Lancaster University
2. Great people
3. Buildings and places to meet
5. Civic leadership
The city of Waterloo in Canada has a lot of similarities to Lancaster – a population of 105,000, two universities and roughly 60 miles from a prosperous tech-focused city – Toronto and Manchester respectively.
In Waterloo’s case their largest employer was the mobile phone maker BlackBerry. As it lost out in the era of smartphone development to Apple, Samsung and cheaper rivals, the city of Waterloo knew it needed to act in order to retain the talent from BlackBerry and its universities.
In this video about Waterloo’s successful start-up community (and community is a really important word), Karl Allen-Muncey, the British founder of tech company Cute Gecko gave his reason for moving to Waterloo, “it had arts, culture and technology, and the perfect place to bring up a family and start a business”. Surely a great description of Lancaster, and what it could be? Watch the video.