Look at how far Derby has come and the journey is far from over

Last Friday we held our 10th Marketing Derby Annual Business Event.

Delegates packed into the Derby Theatre to share reflections on the city’s development, as well as to speculate on future prospects, through a series of presentations, films and panels.

People had travelled from as far afield as London, Liverpool and Birmingham, though the majority came from the Greater Derby area.

Afterwards, someone based outside the region approached me. 

He wanted to tell me that, in his experience, Derby is the only city that could pull in almost 500 business people to such an event, at 7.30am, on a January morning.

Someone else commented that this was his annual ‘pick-me-up’, giving hope for the year ahead.

I used my presentation to remind us about the progress Derby has made over the past ten years, attracting, as it has, £2.7billion of investment.

At the same time, I was clear that the city is not Disneyland. 

Like all cities, Derby is on a journey to realise its potential and cannot afford to lose the regeneration momentum it has already created.

I stated that the secret to whatever success we have had as Marketing Derby was simple, we keep a positive attitude and always view the glass as half -full.  

We are optimists who seek to make a difference. 

Our guest speaker was Andrew Carter, the Deputy Chief Executive of influential think-tank, Centre for Cities. 

Andrew walked about the stage, presenting the bigger economic picture, describing how Derby generally punches above its weight. 

In particular, he said that most cities he visits stake a claim on being a centre for hi-tech, advanced engineering, when they clearly are not.

Derby, he said, was an exception, in that its aerospace, rail, automotive and nuclear clusters put it apart from other cities. 

This is a claim Derby clearly can make and provides a fantastic platform for other development. 

At the same time, he warned that the city centre needed to continue to develop its residential, retail and leisure offer, if it is to attract the talent Derby’s employers require.

Derby is fortunate to have a genuinely robust public-private partnership. The campaign to retain Bombardier in 2011 was probably its apotheosis, but the same approach is made on a daily basis, albeit with less brouhaha and profile. 

When it comes to pulling together around the interests of the city, Derby is second to none.

I know it’s axiomatic to say that regeneration never stops, but it’s always worth remembering.  

I was at pains to stress at the Annual Business Event that the city is on a journey – pictures from 2006 of the old bus station, run-down rail station and dilapidated Roundhouse helped remind us of how bad things had become – and that Derby is by no means the finished business.

Derby City Council’s masterplan, launched last year, identifies the next set of priorities as being within the very central area itself, essentially from Becketwell to the Assembly Rooms.

Any walk around reinforces this - the real question being what can be done and how might this be funded?

The pace of redevelopment frustrates us all – you better believe there are few as impatient as me – but we can’t just wish money out of thin air. 

We will get one shot and we must get it right. 

Whilst on the surface nothing seems to be happening, behind the scenes, led by the City Council and supported by businesses, there is now a focused resource and energy considering options and designing a route map to solving this major challenge. 

There are people in every slice of life, in every city, who delight in gloom.  For them, the glass is always empty and they never deliver credible solutions.

In my experience, the wider Derby community is inherently proud of the city and they want to see it succeed.

There is much speculation, and some concern, about the nature of the world economy for the year ahead.

My hope is that if we manage to ride through the disturbance and challenges of China, oil, equities and the like, then 2016 should be the year we finally crack what is undoubtedly the city’s major regeneration challenge. 

As I said on stage, watch this space…