Big advantages of making a bold move


Tomorrow night, over 200 people will gather in the prestigious House of Lords terrace pavilion for the 2018 Marketing Derby Embassy.

We have been running these award-winning inward investment events for over 10 years – indeed the Financial Times fDi Magazine described them as the world’s best.

Our business model of being a genuine public-private partnership has enabled Marketing Derby to be innovative in how we promote place. Almost all of our competitors are local authority or LEP-based and so invariably struggle with this style of approach.

From time to time, other investment promotion agencies do hold promotion events in London, however, none have got even near to the intensity and consistency of our Marketing Derby events – 5,000 jobs attracted speaks for itself.

Our Embassies are incredibly well supported – by investors, Bondholders and our London ambassadors - and they tend to be held in premium locations such as Downing Street, Lambeth Palace, Pall Mall, the Ritz and Citibank’s Canary Wharf HQ.

Our company values are to be pro-active, make a difference and think Derby first and the Marketing Derby Embassies are the perfect manifestation of this.

A city like Derby cannot sit back and wait for the proverbial phone to ring, we have to go out and seek the attention of investors and generate enquiries.

We are acutely aware that once we are on the radar we must then continue to sustain the confidence of the investor in Derby. Simple fact is that we are in competition and investors have – and will exercise - choice.

Putting on a team Derby show – civic and business leadership in common cause, singing from the same hymn sheet – is a crucial part of this process.


Last year – across the Thames from the Palace of Westminster - our Embassy at the historic Lambeth Palace was called the Art of Innovation and included representing visuals from some of the city’s and county’s best companies and products.

The fact that we now promote the county of Derbyshire as well as the city of Derby has been welcomed and there is positive synergy between the two that is well understood by investors.

The event at the House of Lords will see this pitch evolve and we are delighted that the Earl of Burlington has agreed to provide keynote comments on the night.

 The London Ambassador Orrery Magazine

The London Ambassador Orrery Magazine

On a wider picture, the links between London and Derby have always been strong which is why we launched a new magazine this month – Orrery – aimed at the London market.

Inward investment promotion starts with perception of place and Orrery is targeted at repositioning Derby and Derbyshire differently in the minds of potential investors. The magazine features some of our most innovative people and companies and to date response has been terrific.  

There is no doubt that, as well as being a source of capital investment, London might also become a platform for company relocations and growth.

In the past, this has been focused on the relocation of government departments – from which Derby never benefited – but it is now becoming a bigger issue amongst business.

The catalyst is the incredible rising cost of doing business in London.

Sky high rents and rates, exorbitant staff wages and turnover, housing costs, travel costs and congestion all add up to something like an additional £20,000 - per employee per year - for basing a person or post in London.

Now, we would all accept there are certain roles that must be based in the capital but many businesses – and their employees – are starting to question the cost against the benefit.

Put simply, a company would save £10million per year by just moving 500 posts out of the capital. These days, in terms of office leases, most businesses would location plan for a stable 10 to 20 years at which point the figures for basing those posts in London get astronomical.

What business can argue against a saving of £100m to £200m over that period, just by shifting 500 posts out of the hot house that is London?

This isn’t just theory, there is a trend emerging. Manchester attracted the BBC and Bank of New York; Birmingham has Deutsche Bank and HS2 and Leeds has Burberry.

The push is bottom up as well as top down with many people considering moving out of the capital to improve their quality of life or even simply buy a home.

One of the features we included in Orrery is a cheeky reminder of what quality of housing you get, pound for pound, in Derbyshire compared to London. The average house price in London is £424,610 – that gets you a two bed flat above an East London shop or a detached house in Duffield.

The recent Marketing Derby board annual ‘away day’ was held at our office in London and we looked at whether to resource strategies in 2019 to put Derby on the map for companies considering relocation to the regions.

Our strengths include central location, transport access, quality workforce and living costs, but our weaknesses are anchored around poor quality office availability and a sclerotic planning experience holding back development.   

We are working on tackling both of these – Derby City Council is looking to bring forward new city centre office developments to deal with market failure, something we are very supportive of. Complementing that we are working with the city to modernise planning and so deliver a smoother landing for investors.


The case for relocation to the regions is getting stronger. What we must now do is ensure that Derby is viable and credible option.

Reimagining City Centres

Recent news that profits at the John Lewis Partnership – the doyen of the English middle class – have fallen by 99% should have come as a total shock. However, it barely caused a ripple.

More locally, last week’s sad announcement that iconic music store, Foulds, was to leave Iron Gate after over 100 years, again barely registered.

It seems that, after ten years of continual household name closures, right up to the collapse of House of Fraser last month, we have become immune to bad news from the High Street. 

The simple truth is that the post-war era of retail-led town and city centres is now well and truly over.

Every place – small, medium or large - is going to have to define and deliver a new future for its central area if it is not to become forgotten and virtually abandoned, as were many US downtowns from the 1970s.

The reason behind the decline is generally accepted as being a fundamental and structural change in customer behaviour, initiated by the Great Crash of 2008 and deepened by the exponential growth of online sales, plus the relentless charge of business rates.

Put it this way, every time you (and I) make a purchase online, especially to global giants hiding their income from tax regimes, we are piercing another hole in the heart of our High Street. 

One could argue that today the true British High Street can be seen not in our town and city centres but in the mega-sheds that line our motorway system.

When we press ‘click’ it is here that the purchase is effectively made and our deal is often cheaper as the company will not have to pay the business rates – or in many cases the corporation taxes – faced by the regular store on our High Street.

Central Derby has about 1,000 shops and pre-2008 vacancy rates were generally 5% or less - in other words, a healthy regular churn.

After the crash, increasing numbers of shops closed – most of these national brands from Woolworths to the more recent BHS but also many smaller independents – and vacancy rates grew to as high as 30%+ in many towns.

In Derby, vacancies appear to have stabilised at about 15% - we are by no means the worst city but stand somewhere in the middle.

However, the vacancy rate hides a picture of changing uses – there are fewer traditional retail stores and many more betting shops, pawn exchanges, as well as food and drink establishments.

As a city we simply cannot wish this retail climate change away and all indications are that things are going to get worse, not better.

Expect more shop closures and, if we hit an economic dip, I fear a repeat of some of the vacancy rates last seen after 2008.

Knowing this, our only option is to redefine the purpose of our city centre and then implement strategies that accelerate its delivery.

There is a consensus among commentators that city centres have to become places to live, work and visit if they are to survive, never mind thrive and, in Derby’s case, we have a serious challenge if we are to achieve a balance of these three.

In terms of a place to work, Derby has always struggled as so much economic activity lies outside of the centre. The construction of the 1,000,000 sq ft of new offices – which would have brought 10,000 workers into the city centre every day – never happened.

Derby City Council has dealt with this market failure through its successful Connect scheme providing about 50,000 sq ft of space aimed at smaller companies and will soon deliver a further 30,000 sq ft of quality office space with developer Jensco aimed at medium-sized companies. We have to hope this gives confidence to the market and appetite for more.

As a place to visit, Derby has been stepping up its game in terms of retail – we have risen from 63rd to 24th in national tables over the past 10 years – and our reputation for quality festivals grows.   

To be a place where people live, you have to have housing.

Traditionally, Derby has pushed its population into the suburbs and beyond. We are not alone in doing this but most cities have recognised the need and benefit of having people come into town in the evenings to live.

Derby is in danger of being left behind if we do not accelerate our city living options.

A few years back, the city set off on a strategy to encourage city living and early signs have been good. The start of housing in Castleward, the conversion of empty offices into apartments and the construction of new student accommodation are all starting to take effect.

A successful city centre has to cater for all demographics and to achieve this the next important step in Derby is to see upscale city living. This will predominantly be in new apartments aimed at the many professionals required by our hi-tech employment base.

It has sometimes been a tough sell, but investors have finally shown an interest in Derby and there are now such schemes navigating their way through the planning process.

In Derby, this is not simple, as a small minority oppose city centre developments - on the basis of perceived impact on conservation areas - resulting in schemes being slowed down or even being denied planning permission.

The most significant new proposal is Godwin Development’s 200 unit, 17 storey, Landmark - a top quality Build to Rent apartment scheme on North Riverside, adjacent to the Inner Ring Road which goes to the Planning Committee in October.

Public reaction at the consultation was positive and Marketing Derby, together with many of the city’s leading businesses, are keen to see this approved and built.

The Planning Committee showed a welcome real world understanding last month when it overturned an officer recommendation and awarded permission for the Belgian Frites 33 store to open on St Peter’s Street. 

They recognised that the era of protected retail frontage is over and the exercising of flexibility in use classes is required.

The Landmark is a game changer for the perception of Derby city centre as a place to live and investors, employers and employees will be watching its progress with interest.

Derby's story is one of progression


Ten years since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the ensuing global financial crisis - the most catastrophic economic event since the Great Depression of the 1920s – continues to resonate.  

Gordon Brown’s oft-repeated claim that there would be ‘no more boom and bust’ proved wide of the mark.

Sadly, there seems to be an inevitability hardwired in the up/down cycles of human endeavour, where emotion-based decisions trample over the rational.

As Oscar Wilde once said, ‘expect the unexpected’ and in the autumn of 2008 this certainly was the case.

So, if we cannot prevent boom and bust, our challenge must surely be to try and even out its extremes.

In other words, it’s only a matter of time before we face the next economic dip - or recession – the only question is its length and depth.

Often described as an economic heart attack, I feel a more suitable medical metaphor for what happened in 2008 to be that of a stroke.

It’s as if the world’s nervous system came under continual and enduring stress, subsequently externalised by events clearly rooted in that stroke.

Examples include populism, protectionism and the general sense of geopolitical agitation in which we live today.

Looking back, maybe the portents were there.

Could the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of its associated communist political system really be as benign as hoped for by Francis Fukuyama in his influential book The End of History?

Could reaction to the terrible events of 9/11 be contained within the military backlash of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?

Far from stabilising, old world ideological certainties morphed and mutated into new-isms – as if a virus - random, unpredictable and sometimes shocking.

And so, it is within this context that we try to regenerate our city of Derby, knowing that there is a clock ticking towards a downturn, trying our best to attract and land investment before the next dip.

A case of fixing the roof while the sun shines.

As I write, I’m looking at an interesting juxtaposition of two features in the Derby Telegraph.

One is a fascinating piece on the opening of the Queen Street swimming pool in 1932.

The other contains visions created earlier this year for key city centre sites – such as the Assembly Rooms and Market Hall – by architecture students at the University of Derby.


The relevance of these events, in 1932 and 2018, is not lost as today proposals for a new swimming pool and performance venue are again under consideration.

In 1932, the Queen Street baths were described as ‘refreshing’ and the project included innovations such as a movable floor, thus creating an entertainment space for 1,500 people. I remember seeing the Jam and the Clash on these massive wobbly wooden boards in the 1970s (and indeed would have seen the Sex Pistols had they not been banned).  

The students’ concepts in 2018 are described as ‘futuristic’ and breathe with the energy, verve and optimism of youth.

The 1932 piece reinforces for me the simple fact that cities are always in transition – Derby, with its new pool, was then, as it is today.

However, some things don’t change.

There is a predictable inevitability in the fact that in 1932 the Queen Street pool attracted criticism, as did the Council for funding it.

Similarly, every concept proposed today, whether by the students or professionals, has detractors urgently objecting, demanding that nothing changes.

We can sometimes be seemingly drawn to an imagined past.

Derby’s story though is one of progression.  

frairaget bridge.jpg

During the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries the city carved its future in the white heat of technology and change – large factories, massive mills, numerous railways, cutting-edge aerospace and nuclear research – all driving the city forward, as brilliantly illustrated in the recent Art of Industry exhibition at the Derby Museum.

The architectural daring embodied by James Gibbs in his Cathedral, in Andrew Handyside’s Friar Gate railway bridge or Stephenson’s Roundhouse, is today reflected in Feilden, Clegg and Bradley’s Quad, Carey Jones’s Friar Gate Square or the Landmark by Nichol Thomas.

For hundreds of years Derby has been driven by hope not fear, a city seeking to move forward not back. In the long run, efforts to turn off the tap of progress fail.

Heritage is important and must be nurtured but its protection is best achieved through the economic and social progress of place. When a city stops developing, that city dies and its heritage is left to rot.


New developments can challenge but they are to be considered within a legal framework. Planning applications are not to be seen as a fashion competition and views on design, setting and impact, are invariably subjective.

For example, the recent attempts to describe the non-descript Fire Place Company building at Wyvern as being ‘a well loved city landmark’ are misguided and wrong.

Such sentiment fails to understand the essential soul of our city.

The silent majority desire progression and change. Derbeians are ambitious for themselves, their families and friends, just as they are ambitious for their city.

Truth is, Derby’s success is based on embracing innovation not ossification.

There, in my view, lies the Derby way.

Resilience is the word

One of my long-held beliefs is that cities cannot stand still - invariably they are always on the up or in some type of decline.

I also believe that cities can shape their own future.

Yes, the reality of the market forces will provide economic boosts or busts, but history is littered with places that have proactively managed their growth or revival.

The simple fact is that no city has a God-given right to flourish and any city’s resilience will be tested by occasional shocks, which by definition are hard to predict.

The past two weeks I’ve been in the United States and so have been hearing news from Derby with the benefit of distance.

The announcement by Rolls-Royce of a significant workforce reduction and the loss of the Piccadilly line contract by Bombardier amount to at least a warning of sorts.

For the past 10 years, since Westfield chose Derby as the location for its first European investment, the city has been on an upward trajectory. At Marketing Derby we track the major investments into the city and these now exceed £4 billion over that decade.

As a retail centre we have leapt from 64 th in 24 th nationwide, our GVA growth - tied in with that of Oxford and Cambridge – is in the top three and our salaries continue to be among the best outside of London.

None of this is under direct threat because of those announcements.

However, it is a wake-up call that will test our resolve as a city and we must ensure we navigate our way through with calmness and determination.

It’s important to remember that Rolls-Royce continue to HQ their business in the city and is spending hundreds of millions on its new campus. Take a drive down to Sinfin to get a sense of its scale.

Bombardier has had a great run of wins since the Thameslink debacle and are in the final selection for the multi-billion HS2 contract.

We should be confident – as opposed to being complacent – about the economic fundamentals underpinning our economy.

At the same time, we cannot pretend this is a time for business as usual.

If you add the uncertainty caused by Brexit, plus the danger of international trade wars, then the challenges facing Derby are very real.

One thing that gives me some comfort is that we have a strong public-private partnership, based on experience and trust, that shares a common vision and commitment to the city’s future.

One thing the government encouraged as a result of the news from Rolls-Royce was the establishment of a Task Force. In many places, there would now be a search for its membership and new relationships would need to be created.

In Derby these already exist.

The Derby Renaissance Board brings this leadership together and indeed the Task Group chair – Peter Richardson from the D2N2 LEP – is himself a past Chair of the DRB. Let’s just say that the introductions at the first meeting of the Task Group wouldn’t have taken much time.

By coincidence at the most recent DRB meeting, held earlier this month, we had a discussion on possible asks of Government for the coming budget round - settling on continued investment into the city centre, acceleration of tech-developments on Infinity Park Derby and improving transport infrastructure and connectivity within the city itself.

This work should prove useful in the choppy waters ahead and government likes nothing more than a team able and ready to deliver a vision for growth.

I see this as a time for resilience and whilst in America I visited some cities that have successfully dealt with situations far more structural and threatening than that faced in Derby.

I was especially impressed with Cleveland Ohio, which has emerged from a destiny as a rust bucket capital to being a clean, safe, attractive hub of energy and activity.

For me, Cleveland presents a true master-class in downtown regeneration.

A catalyst was a sustained community-based campaign in the 1980s of 100,000 signatures supporting the case for the city to host the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was a campaign they won and today that visitor attraction is a magnet drawing people into the city.

I appreciate there are some people for whom the glass is always half empty and who seem to feed off any bad news.

However, most people want a city to thrive and although they might not always vocalise it, they welcome good news and support positive change.

You will be pleased to hear that we have already started our exercise in resilience. Yesterday ‘Team Derby’ presented our case to MPs in Parliament and a Marketing Derby Embassy made the case to investors in London.

And, who was there on the platform promoting Derby as a place to invest – in addition of course to Chris Poulter the new Leader of the City Council and David Williams Chair of the DRB – none other than Rolls-Royce, seeking to calm any investors’ nerves on the bigger, long-term future of both company and city.

The message is clear – as a community we are determined to shape the future of our city, whatever challenges are thrown our way, and we are already on the front foot in doing so.

Why we need to build bridges not walls

John 2 (Web).jpg

It’s often said that the only man-made structure that can be seen from outer space is the Great Wall of China.

Built by the Ming Dynasty, its primary purpose was defence - protecting the country from invasion - though over time, the 4,000-mile structure has also acted as a customs border and trading post.

The Great Wall is now one of the world’s leading tourist destinations and today’s Chinese Grand Project is very different.

Called the One Belt-One Road initiative, as conceived by President Xi Jinping, its stated purpose is to globalise, to reach out and grow trade and investment links - essentially creating a 21st century version of the Silk Road.

Great Wall of China

Its budget is $900bn; an investment much more than a road then. Projects include rail links, seaports, airports and even broadband - and so, in many respects, the purpose of Belt and Road is the exact opposite of that of the Great Wall.

To build walls or construct bridges?

This is surely one of societies most fundamental questions, as true for communities and companies, as much as it is for cities and countries.

From Jericho or York, to Berlin or Jerusalem, the construction of walls has played an existential role in city narrative. The same can be said for countries (think of Hadrian’s Wall or the Iron Curtain).

However, walls – and bridges – go well beyond the physical. They can be the abstract, virtual, policy-based expressions of a political and economic perspective.     

Yes, Donald Trump wants to build an actual wall between the United States and Mexico but he is also seeking to introduce new trade barriers, for example with China. This forms an essential part of his Make America Great Again agenda.

Northern Ireland / Ireland border

Closer to home, the desire to avoid a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom is stressing out the Brexit negotiations to a point of near ossification.

In fact, the vote to leave the European Union is about to throw the UK into the maelstrom of geo-politics and economics.

Having put up a wall of sorts, we will quickly need to get on and build bridges.

As we leave one club, we will have to seek bi-lateral alliances with individual countries - most of whom have their own existing and evolving alliances - all set in the context of economies and governments that can change overnight.

This is why trade deals are so tough and why they take so much time.

Countries likely to be top of the UK list for a deal - such as Australia, Canada, India and the United States – all have their own separate trade policy objectives.

Most especially, this will be to seek open access into the UK for their products, whilst best protecting their own domestic markets from ours - in truth, a consideration at the heart of any deal for both parties.

This certainly includes lamb or butter from New Zealand, chlorinated chicken and other food products from the US and free movement of people from India.

The UK has little experience in trade negotiations, which is why the Department for International Trade has had to bulk up its team by making an astonishing 800 new staff appointments.   

The other consideration of course is this, what exactly is it that we intend to sell into new markets - facilitated as part of new trade deals - that we cannot sell to that same market today?

To date, there has been very little discussion – in fact no discussion - on this.

Today, almost half of our £519bn of exports go to only 5 countries – the US, Germany, France, Netherlands and Ireland – so, one assumes that protecting these markets is the number one priority for the new DIT trade team.

However, I struggle to believe that 800 civil servants are focused solely on the EU and US, so we must be looking to grow new markets, to at least balance any loss in EU trade, as well as fuelling future growth.

The simple fact is this. If we do have the products these markets desire, then growing exports to them is going to be a long, hard slog.

Taj Mahal in India

For example, in terms of the oft-quoted ‘new’ emerging markets, the UK could double its exports to India (currently standing at £5.7bn per annum) and yet India (population 1,340m) would still be a smaller market for us than Belgium (population 11m).

It’s not that we shouldn’t try, but we have to realise there are no quick wins.

Essentially, in order to achieve such growth we have to have the companies chomping at the bit, with desired products in place and a commitment to go out and sell into these markets, beating any competition from elsewhere.

In this context, it is disturbing to hear that the UK government plans a 10% reduction in overseas trade promotion posts.

Midlands Engine

Germany exports five times more to China than we do and, guess what, their export promotion activity is better resourced than ours, even before that 10% cut is implemented.

One of the bridges we are building is greater collaboration across the Midlands. This region is a UK star when it comes to exports and we host some of the UK’s greatest export success stories.

There are many armchair generals who appear on TV at night declaring we should just ‘get on with it’, whatever it is.

Our relationship with the world is about to be reset and success will only be achieved by reaching out, building not walls but bridges - based on values of humility and mutual respect – backed up with hungry companies, excellent products and a cracking sales force.      

Neither Cannes or Hollywood hold a candle to what we have done in Derby

Derby’s Walk of Fame – on Albion Street - is really something special.

Like many of you, I’ve been to Cannes and Hollywood and, in my humble unbiased view, neither hold a candle to what we have done in Derby. Let me tell you why.

Yes, being French, the Path of Stars laid out in Cannes has an elegant élan - handprints and signatures impressed in clay, located around the Palais des Festivals– but aside from looking at them, there is no opportunity for further information nor interaction. 

Meanwhile, in surprisingly seedy Hollywood, the influence of characters such as Harvey Weinstein and, of course, the god that is cash – stars actually pay a $30,000 ‘fee’ for the pleasure of recognition – cheapens the experience of seeing almost 900 stars (honestly, there are that many) but no place for the likes of Robert de Niro, Julia Roberts, Angelina Jolie or Spike Lee. Odd that.

The catalyst here in Derby was the success of City of Derby club swimmer, Adam Peaty, who started bagging gold medals all over the world. This begged a question - how do we celebrate our heroes?

We decided to do things differently and sought nominations from the wider Derby public, to then employ local artisans and materials in creating the physical stars and, finally, introduce a hi-tech innovation, enabling people to engage with each star’s back story and more via an augmented reality app.

From this, came the name of our walk – Made in Derby.

To garner nominations, the Derby Telegraph ran a number of stories and 400 names were submitted. A small stakeholder panel then selected 10 individuals to be represented in phase one, which we agreed to locate on Albion Street in the city’s current regeneration priority area, the St Peters Quarter.

These 10 people manifest an astonishing reflection of 500 years of bravery and brilliance connected with the city.

Bess of Hardwick is the most historic name on the walk, dating back to the 16th century. 

Imagine building a visitor attraction today, which is even more popular at the end of the 25th century? Well, that’s essentially what Bess did. If you have ever visited Chatsworth or Hardwick Hall you have witnessed her historic fingerprint.  

From a poor background, Bess married four times and had eight children, she knew the likes of Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots and Charles Stuart – but Bess may be one of our greatest business people. Go see her tomb at Derby Cathedral.

I don’t need to wax lyrical in this column about Brian Clough, Peter Taylor, John Hurt, Charles Rolls, Henry Royce or Joseph Wright, all of whom feature on the walk but what do you know about Alice Wheeldon?

Alice is an interesting character - like Bess, a woman ahead of her time – who was a suffragist and fervent anti-war campaigner. Alice lived in the city’s ever-edgy Normanton neighbourhood and kept a safe house there for conscientious objectors.  

Her notoriety is rooted in the fact that she was subjected to a Le Carré-style secret service spook entrapment and subsequently found guilty at the Old Bailey of plotting to assassinate the Prime Minister, Lloyd George. 

Another name you might not know is that of Louis Martin, hailed as Britain’s greatest weightlifter. Louis was part of the Windrush generation – another citizen of Normanton – who loved Derby and went on to conquer the world, winning gold medals and championships. 

A genuine local hero, at his peak, Louis was represented at Madame Tussaud’s, awarded an MBE, and set up a series of gyms across the city. Again, ahead of his time, his mixed marriage to a local girl in 1964 – 50 years before Harry met Meghan - featured in the Sunday Times magazine.

Last, but by no means least, is Lord Noel Baker, a man I was lucky to meet just before his death. 

This guy was a rare polymath – Derby MP for 34 years, a medal-winning Olympian who brought the Olympic Games to London in 1948, one of the creators of the United Nations - oh, and did I say, winner of a Nobel Peace Prize?

In my student days, he treated me to lunch at the House of Lords (long story) where he talked nonchalantly of his meetings with the likes of Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. 

Rather embarrassingly, I told him I thought he was a school (these of course were pre-Google days) but he forgave me and we quickly found common ground when I noticed he was proudly wearing a DCFC tie and told him where I was from.

Ten very different stories of ten very different characters. 

But, what binds them together is a fearless ambition to challenge the conventions of their time, seeking to change their city and the wider world for the better, contributing to their community, which is why they will be remembered for many more centuries to come.

More people acknowledging city's positive future

John Forkin, MD at Marketing Derby

The news last week that Derby is now ranked in the top three UK city economies for GVA growth came as no surprise to me.

Marketing Derby’s core pitch to inward investors is based on the strength of our economy. For years, our team has been tracking these tables and - whilst I always say there is no single bullet that makes or breaks a place - in truth, Derby is always there or thereabouts, sitting right near the top.

This time we were second out of 45 cities – located between Cambridge and Oxford, not bad company. Derby is the only Midlands city in the top ten and, for those interested, Liverpool, Swansea and Belfast held up the bottom.

Investors love this stuff and are often pleasantly surprised to hear that Derby occupies such lofty heights. It’s a great platform on which to base our conversations and is a key factor underpinning our investment successes. Remember, Derby has attracted £4billion of investment over the past decade.

Oddly though, some locals are often surprised too.

By now, I would expect that those who live and work in the Derby area to be pretty much aware that we host massive, wealth-creating companies - such as Bombardier, Rolls-Royce and Toyota - as well as a thriving SME tech sector.  

It may be simply that the perception of what these companies do is outdated, or that some haven’t stopped to think to make the connection between this and economic growth.

Having said that, I am definitely sensing increasing numbers of Derbeians are becoming open to good news and consequently receptive to future city development.  

Derby sits between Oxford and Cambridge in UK city economies for GVA growth

Actually, maybe more than receptive, many are positively hungry for accelerated change as we move towards shaping a city fit for the 21st century.

There is genuine growing pride in the city and the minority who choose to sit on the sidelines and chunter are becoming isolated.

I’ve come to accept that some people seem simply immune to good news - Derby 2nd best city economy, Derby rises from 64th to 24th in national retail table, the University of Derby achieving Gold status for teaching, Derbeians winning Gold at the Commonwealth Games - bah-humbug to the lot!

Every week, in my day-to-day role, I’m lucky to meet hundreds of people and I find that the vast majority are living or working in Derby out of positive conscious choice.

Last week at the Quad we welcomed a new investor into town – the Woodhead Group – and I was really struck by the passionate attitude of their team to be based in the city, some of whom were Derbeians coming home.

Of course, Derby has a long and proud track record of welcoming new and growing companies – just think Rolls-Royce 100 years ago or Toyota 25 years ago – providing them with a home for sustained success.

Art piece on display at Derby Museum's Art of Industry exhibition

We have been a home for industry for over 300 years and in this respect I urge all readers to visit an exhibition currently showing at the Derby Museum and Art Gallery.

Called the Art of Industry, it shows how artists have captured the evolution of the industrial revolution which started right here in Derby at the Silk Mill.

Yes, there is the art of Joseph Wright, L.S. Lowry and Graham Sutherland – Wright’s sublime Iron Forge, on loan from the Tate and back in Derby for the first time since 1772, is worth the trip alone – but what intrigued me is the effect of industry on place.

One of the rooms is dedicated to a myriad of views of Derby as industry shaped the skyline of a fast-growing city, juxtaposing the religious and industrious. For a city to thrive it needs to breathe and grow, the alternative being ossification and decline and the Victorians understood this innately, sometimes with controversial impact.

Trade and investment is a theme which is increasingly going to form part of the national discourse as we move towards and beyond Brexit.

Recent announcements of investment into the iHub on Infinity Park Derby by Airbus and the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre are evidence that Derby is on its game. Anyone in doubt should take a drive around the emerging Rolls-Royce aerospace campus or the growing nuclear facility on Raynesway.

I stress to anyone who will listen that Derby is on a journey – surely cities always are – yes, there are challenges that need addressing but what gives me confidence is that our ambitions are firmly rooted in a robust local economy with global reach.

Don’t believe me, just look at the tables.

Tangled up in Blue

Cannes: 15th March 2018

Something feels very different at MIPIM this year.

It's not just that the Côte d'Azur sunshine has been swept away today by heavy rain. The MIPIM boys in blue suits have discarded their designer sun glasses and scuttled into the infamous bunker.

Outside on the street, hawkers are trading umbrellas at €20 a shot. However, the only business are the MIPIM refuseniks - usually wealthy folk who are unwilling to pay the MIPIM entrance fee - and they are unlikely to part with cash for mere rain protection.

No, what feels different is Derby and, more specifically, how Derby is perceived.

Marketing Derby has been 'doing' MIPIM for 10 years and, to be honest, in the early days we felt like hickey interlopers.

MIPIM is a market where cities and regions parade their wares to the 25,000 delegates seeking opportunity.

Back in the day, a city like Derby - population 250,000 - struggled to get attention amongst the glitz and glamour.

But, we felt we had a case, a cause if you will, so we stuck to our task and came back, year after year, with a little more experience, nous and confidence.

This year, I feel we have passed MIPIM tipping-point.

We now rock up with a great team and a clever plan. The 25,000 no longer intimidate. We know how to play MIPIM, where to focus and then basically ignore the rest of what can sometimes be a circus.

We collaborate with our Midlands colleagues in an impressive pavilion, providing a platform and easy intro space for investors. Its design is professional, you might say almost cool, but the energy and buzz is tangible and never seems to fade. Derby has been central to making this happen.

Outside the pavilion, the Derby Embassy, now in its 10th year, has become a landmark event - completely oversubscribed to near breaking point - where we share our narrative and opportunities.

The star turn this week was Rolls-Royce outlining the scale and hi-tech nature of their massive Derby operation. The audience lapped it up. There is no better sales pitch for a city than to have a global company fly out a senior member to endorse the product.

Finally, Marketing Derby took the stage at a Financial Times gathering of 80 of Europe's top inward investment agencies.

We were the only agency asked to do so. Why? Because we are seen as being one of the most innovative in how we use data and intelligence to attract investors.

And that is basically the difference I started with in this blog. We no longer feel like accidental guests, gratefully taking morsels from the table.

We are now trusted and respected partners with a reputation for being open, honest and businesslike - and guess what, investors are liking that...

Learn more about Derby at MIPIM

A City on a River

A river can be a city’s greatest asset, it can help define a place.

Indeed, most cities located on a river are there as it provided access and energy.

Derby fits this description perfectly.

Located on a low crossing point of the Derwent which itself became a source of power for the Silk Mill and the wider industrial revolution.

The river Derwent made Derby but, like many cities, Derby turned its back on the river.

Over the past hundred years or so, our City fathers littered the riverside with a parade of functional buildings – a power station, two courts, police station, bus station and municipal headquarters.

I have no idea as to whether their strategy was to cut the river off from the people but that has been the result. Frankly, it angers me that a perfectly good Morledge Market – of which I just about have a distant memory - was replaced by an unsightly Crown Court. 

Today, we inherit an unholy mishmash and Derby’s riverside really should be our crowing glory and not an area many wish to avoid.

This situation is not unique to Derby – many other cities can tell a similar tale – but my fear is that, whilst over the past ten years the city centre has seen significant investment and improvement, this has not yet spread to the riverside.

Next time you are in town stand on Derwent Bridge and take a look south at what should be our city’s crown jewel. The river widens, providing a stunning broad vista and potential almost unique in such a central city location.

When people visit Derby, the riverside should be on the top of their to-do list. Our tourist pitch could be ‘come and experience one of the most beautiful city centre riversides in the country’.

Sadly, we are a very long way from that; a dead zone where it is not even possible to buy an ice cream in the summer.

So, what is to be done?

My take is this. We have become used to parceling up the regeneration of the city centre into neighbourhoods and this seems to work.

The intu Derby centre attracts 23million people each year. The Cathedral Quarter has won recognition as Britain’s Best High Street. The next investment wave will be focused on the heart of the city – St Peters Quarter – including the new Performance Venue and Becket Well.

I think it’s time to start thinking now about a new Quarter – Riverside - in particular, the stretch that runs from the Silk Mill to the Bass Recreation Ground.

North of this is the Derwent Valley World Heritage Corridor and south is Pride Park. The section I’m talking about is located right in the city centre, a short hop from the Market Place.

Other cities have managed to turn their river from a negative to positive force.

I once visited San Antonio in Texas where a dangerous and dirty river has been transformed into its tourist hub, with more visitors than the Alamo.

Currently Dundee is turning its waterfront into an attractive destination, having secured the V&A as its anchor.

Nearer to home, Leicester has been using CPO powers to bring forward its ambitious £80m Waterside project.

Derby can do this but we need to focus our attention and efforts, without which it simply won’t happen.

There is some hope, to be found in a strategy called Our City - Our River (OCOR).

There is a possibility – a 1 in a 100 annual chance apparently – that the river Derwent could flood parts of central Derby. Were this to happen, the consequences would be pretty dire and our economy, possibly even lives, would be threatened.

OCOR is meant to put in alleviation measures to prevent this. Its cost is a chunky £95m. The OCOR vision - to create a river corridor for recreation and development – is easy to support.

Its delivery though seems painfully slow. It’s now seven years since the strategy was launched and the only work so far has been on the stretch between Darley Abbey and Silk Mill.

I took a walk there last weekend and - whilst reluctant to comment on a work still in progress - I have to say it seems a pretty brutal mix of walls and sterile areas that appear to push the city back from the river. The scheme appears to disconnect city and river.

If the second phase, which will run from the Silk Mill to the Bass’s Rec, is anything like the first – in pace or design - then I fear the consequences.

To date, OCOR has not had the profile and associated examination that it clearly requires before it impacts the city centre.  

Yes, we must prevent flooding, but this must be done in a way that helps the city embrace the river to become the key asset it surely should be.

Done right, this has the potential to unite Derbeians behind a project that genuinely connects our city with our river.

When it comes to selling your city, competition is tough

Each year the World Economic Forum is held in the small Swiss city of Davos, attracting vast amounts of media attention. 

Journalists simply can’t stay away from the chic, swish, ski resort. 

I don’t know but maybe it was the theme - “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World” – that was too compelling for them?

Anyway, last week, Donald Trump’s surprise visit to Davos inevitably hogged the global focus. 

It was however the comments of another new President, made in Davos just before team Trump rolled in, that caught my attention and that was Emmerson Mnangagwa, the new President of Zimbabwe.

Mnangagwa recently took the reins of that troubled country and his message to any well-healed masters of the universe prepared to listen was straight and simple - Zimbabwe is ‘open for business’, in other words, please come and invest in my country.

I’m unaware of the structure of Zimbabwe’s institutions but, by pitching the country as welcoming future inward investment, the President was essentially carrying out the function of an IPA, that is an Investment Promotion Agency.

Marketing Derby is an IPA as I mentioned at our Annual Business Event at the Derby Theatre earlier this month. Talking to people afterwards many were surprised to hear that most cities, regions and indeed countries, have some type of initiative selling its advantages to investors. 

At the ABE I mentioned Invest in Lapland (yes, there is really such an organisation) who campaign that ‘All Signs Point to the Artic’. Plus, Invest in Hong Kong, this year’s winner of IPA of the Year (a moniker awarded by the respected Financial Times FDI magazine), whose slogan is ‘The Best Is Yet to Come’.

Truth is capital is global, mobile and competition between locations is tough and getting tougher.

When it comes to inward investment Derby has a pretty good track record. 
Just over 100 years ago, following a some clever pitching on land and power supply, Rolls-Royce chose the city as its base, a decision that shapes our economy to this this day. Take a look at the massive investment programmes under way in their civil aerospace and nuclear facilities as evidence.

25 years ago, following a thorough and tough competitive process, Toyota chose Burnaston as its home – at that time the UK’s largest ever, foreign direct investment.

Of course, it is important to remember that, just like trade, investment is a two-way process – inward and outward. 

Take a look at international investor magazines today and you will see European cities, such as Dublin, Paris and Frankfurt, actively pitching their case as the perfect location for any post-Brexit relocations from London.

Which brings me neatly on to what must be the mother of all investment opportunities currently playing out in north America.

Last year online retail giant, Amazon, launched a competition. They asked cities to throw their hat into the ring if they wished to host Amazon’s second home, having outgrown their first HQ in Seattle. 

The opportunity is called HQ2 and I’ve never known an enquiry of this scale. 

The prize is gargantuan - 8,000,000 sq feet of office space, $5billion of development and, wait for it,  50,000 new jobs.

You can only imagine the reaction in cities up and down the US and Canada. 

No doubt each IPA would have made a high level assessment of how their location measured up against the terms of the competition – metrics such as population, talent and universities – before deciding whether or not to throw their hat in the ring.

In the end, an astonishing 238 locations submitted a bid to host HQ2. 

Things are done different in America and most offered various incentives unthinkable here in the UK (the highest ‘bid’ being $7billion from New Jersey).

For me, the most interesting bid was that of tiny Stonecrest Georgia. There, the city council offered 345 acres of its own land and, best of all, have said they will rename the city to become City of Amazon. 

Brilliant, but not brilliant enough because, in the end, the only language companies such as Amazon speak, is that of money. 

Amazon have announced the final 20 cities. 

In there are the usual suspects (LA, Boston, New York, New Jersey and many locations around Washington DC) as well as a few interesting, up and coming cities, such as Denver and Austin, Texas. 

Big losers include Detroit and Houston both of whom have described their loss as a wake-up call.

Finally, it is with regret that I need to report that Amazon didn’t bite, 

Heroic Stonecrest didn’t make the cut and so will remain known as the city of Stonecrest…that is of course until the next IPA mega-bid. 

Having outgrown Cupertino California, Apple have already launched a HQ2 search of their own. What price city of Apple? 

China? Follow in Marco Polo's Footsteps and FInd Out Yourself

A country of 1.4 billion people, spanning 5 time zones, with an economy worth £12trillion.

China can be easily described in numbers – impressive ones at that – but nothing prepares you for the shock of growth experienced during any visit today.

I write this following my fifth trip to the Middle Kingdom this autumn.

An intense week included promoting the Midlands in Shanghai, as well as Derby and Derbyshire in our twin city of Hefei.

The Shanghai leg included presentations at the large UK pavilion located in the China International Industrial Fair (itself one of the world’s largest business exhibitions with 165,000 visitors).

Over 60 delegates came out from the Midlands, supported by a phalanx of government officials and a Cabinet Minister (Sajid Javid), as well as companies such as Rolls-Royce, who kindly sent their Head of China down from Beijing.

Derby and Derbyshire were represented by a delegation of 20 - including senior people from the City, County, University, tourism and businesses - all of whom then took the bullet train on a journey 300 miles west to Hefei in the province of Anhui, continuing to evolve civic and business relationships.

This time, once I’d returned, something felt very different.

I noticed significantly more interest being expressed from business colleagues, many of whom were asking me numerous questions, intrigued to get an insight into what modern China is actually like?

It seems that, as the west appears increasingly perturbed and agitated, the east is becoming more confident about its destiny.

Savvy business people are sensing this and want to know how seriously to take China and the wider region.

As the UK leaves the EU in 2019, one of the most pressing questions is whether our separation will turn out to be an opportunity or threat in dealing with places like China. 

My recommendation to anyone interested is very simple… go visit.

Either take one of the many government-organised trade missions, or actually just go on a break.

Put it this way.

Imagine you were alive in 1917 and were offered an opportunity to visit New York City - in 12 short hours - to glimpse the emerging United States of America. I suspect you would take it and you would have come back armed with important knowledge about its ambition, energy and desire.

Well, for New York and USA in 1917, read Shanghai and China in 2017.

On the one hand, many aspects of that country are familiar to us – most especially the food, which permeates every town in the UK via the ubiquitous take-aways. Din Sum, Chow Mein, Canton and Sichuan, have all entered the British lexicon. On this level we feel we know China.

Yet still, China itself holds an air of mystery.

Ever since the thirteenth century writings of that Venetian with a serious travel bug - Marco Polo – westerners have imagined a place of myth and fable.

Of course, during the nineteenth century this bubble was burst big-time when the British invaded China.

Imagine that. Britain actually invaded more than once, starting in 1839 - fighting two wars, both astonishingly aimed at forcing opium onto Chinese people in order to create an income stream for the UK. Not a proud moment.

Since then, China has suffered political turmoil; from the collapse of the dynasty system and subsequent revolution of 1949, through to Chairman Mao’s violent Cultural Revolution and then the introduction of the free market by Deng Xiaoping.

The political and economic system being operated in China today is one that is difficult for us to comprehend – a liberal free market operated within a centralised communist political state. Think sweet and sour.

Current President, Xi Jinping, is now firmly in control and recently launched a plan that sketches out the next steps in the country’s economic growth.

Many in the west still see China as a place that produces low value goods, those cocktail umbrella sticks and plastic toys. Others perceive it as a threat, seeking to copy intellectual property, reverse engineering our products.

Both of these perceptions are increasingly out of date.

Yes, there is still low value and doppelganger production but this is in decline, being replaced by the growth of a domestic consumer economy and hi-tech research, development and manufacturing.

A country that produces 8 million graduates each year is not going to be spending too much time on T-Shirt production.

The ‘Made in China 2025’ strategy sets an ambition to become a global, hi-tech leader in various industries, including advanced IT and robotics.

I saw some evidence of this on a visit to a company called Guoxuan High-Tech in Hefei.

The campus we visited was home to 800 engineers focused on research into Lithium battery power for use in the automotive sector.

Ironically, this was the same week that Donald Trump visited China, eagerly marking America off the green-tech pitch and announcing his intention to reopen coalmines as a source of power.

The geo-politics are important and the response of President Xi was to position himself, and China, as the global lead in open economy and multi-lateral trade.

One of China’s other strategies – known as Belt and Road – is to support infrastructure that connects the country with partner nations.

This example of soft power, underpinned by hard cash, has thrown up projects such as a new capital for Egypt – a brand new metropolis of 6million people to be built 30 miles from Cairo – funded using Chinese cash.

It’s the stuff you couldn’t have made up just a few short years ago.

So, should we be afraid?

I believe there are opportunities for the UK, but only if we see China through 21st century eyes. It’s important to build relationships on a basis of respect, trust and mutual benefit.

Despite our history, I find the Chinese friendly, humble even and instinctively pro-British. There are definitely opportunities for trade and investment, as well as educational, cultural, tourism and sporting links.

I can especially see significant opportunities for local companies with premium products to sell to the well-heeled Chinese middle class consumer – ‘Made in Britain’ remains a credible moniker with this group.

I picked up tangible frustration in China that our government is too passive – apparently Trade Secretary Liam Fox is yet to visit China – and there is a pressing requirement if we have any hope of creating the oft-mentioned ‘Global Britain’.

However, it can’t all be left to government. Maybe we all need to get off our proverbials and get onto planes, quickly shaking off any outdated perceptions and pro-actively engage with the 21st century’s greatest opportunity.





Love Thy Neighbour

It’s called the Brian Clough Way and it connects Derby and Nottingham. 

The irony is that the apparent rivalry between the two cities is usually couched in footballing terms. Yet, it is the late, great, football manager – Old Big ‘Ead himself – that unites the two as the agreed moniker for the A52.

I say ‘apparent’ because, in my view, the perception of competition is often exaggerated.  

The two cites are neighbours and, yes, as with all neighbours, there are issues that divide, as well as issues that unite.

Derby and Nottingham have different histories, narratives and cultures. They look and feel different. But, they are both intensely proud places and rightly so.

There is now a move towards greater co-operation between the two - manifested in the proposed Derby-Nottingham Metro strategy.

Last week, an economic Metro case was launched which identified a series of indicators to show our connections, including the fact that 40,000 people commute regularly between the two cities.

The report also highlights the fact that many of our challenges are shared, not least poor attainment in our schools.

At the same time, initiatives such as the imminent arrival of the HS2 at Toton, provide both opportunity and threat (in particular to both city centres).

However, whilst there is a lot of interchange between the two cities, there remains a deal of ignorance about each other.

A quick visit on a shopping, sporting or leisure trip doesn’t make any of us an expert on place.

The genesis of the Metro initiative seems to be the failure to achieve a devolution deal for the D2N2 area and consequent fear that we must strengthen our collective voice - at least on areas on which we agree - if we are to get any recognition from government. For recognition, read money.

Politically, the UK appears to be stumbling towards a more federal model and not just in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

The creation of City Devo Deals, Metro Mayors and Combined Authorities across England is at least giving the illusion of decentralisation – albeit one controlled by the decidedly centralist Treasury – and, as this month’s Budget showed, areas not seen as accepting this challenge will be bypassed.

In this context, identifying the case for a Derby-Nottingham Metro and building that common voice, does seem sensible enough as a direction of travel - even if it did get off to a bumpy start as limited consultation led to counties and district authorities being left out of the loop.

When it comes to cities punching their weight, size matters.

The Metro initiative recognises that both Derby (population 250,000) and Nottingham (population 320,000) are relatively small cities.

However, putting them together and then including the seven surrounding district authorities, results in a meaty population of 1.4million - placing the Metro area as fifth largest outside London in the top 50 in Europe.

Put like this there is potential for a louder voice though the fact that 60% of the population lives outside of the two city boundaries means that any sustainable Metro move will need to build a willing coalition amongst people and businesses, inside and outside of the core city areas.

Having said that, there are examples of city-twinning, such as Minneapolis-Saint Paul in the United States or Nuremburg-Furth in Germany.  I would imagine a prerequisite of any Metro would be mutual recognition as the two cities being equal partners.

I don’t see intense competition between Derby and Nottingham. In truth it’s more nuanced - different places with often complimentary concerns – sometimes punctuated by thorny issues such as the infamous World Cup bid or the current proposal to relocate HMRC jobs from Derby.

Certainly, in 10 years as managing director of Marketing Derby I cannot think of one inward investment in which we were in direct competition. 

Marketing Derby’s success has been anchored on an intense focus on attracting the type of investment that is right for Derby.

We receive significant funding from both the City and County Councils though our single largest source of income is from our Bondholder companies – businesses committed to seeing Derby thrive.

This doesn’t mean there is no space for collaboration - in fact, far from it.

Over the past few years, we have been increasingly working with colleagues in Nottingham (and in Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire) on various inward investment initiatives, including a shared presence at MIPIM and in European funding bids.

Most recently, we carried out a very successful joint promotion event in London together with Nottingham and indeed, Leicester.

And, of course, we are collaborating on international promotion activity via the Midlands Engine – most recently in China where we launched a 3-year strategy.

The danger of consultants’ reports is that of fixing imaginary problems and so, going forward, it is going to be vitally important that any Metro strategy focuses its energies on where greatest value can be added.

These are the big issues, including urgent improvement in education attainment and skills, reducing inequalities, ensuring infrastructure benefits both cities, delivery of our regeneration priorities and building a public-private coalition to raise our voice in Whitehall.  

Producing a Metro report was the relatively easy starter for ten – raising the cities’ mutual game will be the real challenge.    

Forkin's China Daily

This week Marketing Derby's Managing Director, John Forkin, is part of a delegation to China. Here is his daily blog



Friday 10th November - China - So What?

This is actually my fifth visit to China and yet the blog headlines this week - über-massive and mind-boggling - still reflect the surprise, shock even, of a first timer.

It's hard to overstate the pace of change here and impossible not to accept its impending impact on the world.

 Let me put it like this.

Imagine it's 1917 and you are given the opportunity to reach New York City in 12 hours. Once there, you can take a glimpse at an emerging America. You see a fresh country, confident it is about have its day. You return with a dose of respect and a sense we need to step up our game.

Useful or waste of time?

In a nutshell, this is how a trip to China in 2017 feels.

Historically, Britain prides itself on being an outward-looking trading nation. We appear to have lost some momentum and hunger but Brexit has put trade right at the centre of debate. Whatever happens, our trade with Europe will soon decline and the imperative is to find new markets. In this context, what better place to start than China?

Our mission this week therefore had two functions.

The first was to fly the flag for the Midlands.

The Department for International Trade sponsored a UK pavilion at the China International Industry Fair and a delegation of 50 people from across the region came to ensure the Midlands is on the radar.

Having commissioned KPMG, we launched a 3-year strategy, intended to support greater trade links between China and the Midlands.

It was a good start, given some official muscle by the presence of a cabinet minister, and we will soon meet in Coventry to look at activating the plan.

 The second objective was to further develop our local relationship with Hefei and Anhui.

In China symbols count, as business is based on longevity and trust.

Following an initial visit in 2016, by Derby City Council's Leader and CEO, progress has been remarkable. The past year has seen a number of visits in both directions. Only 2 weeks ago 27 delegates from Hefei visited Derby and the fact that 20 delegates reciprocated this week has been taken as a clear indication that we are serious.

In terms of tangible outputs small beginnings are starting to show.

Both City and County Councils have fulfilled their role in keeping the civic relations warm. Don't underestimate how important this is. This will soon result in a D2 envoy, based full-time in Hefei, giving us an invaluable asset on the ground.

Marketing Derby produced an investment brochure and film (in mandarin of course) with 20 example of investable options and we are starting to get early stage expressions of interest following the B2B meetings held this week.

Business delegates are all returning with hot contacts and tourism relations took a major step forward with first visits  likely in 2018.

The University of Derby has significant ambitions, having already employed staff in China and this week opened an office in Shanghai, with exchanges of professors and students already starting.

Also, Derby County has made a number of visits and again, sporting exchanges will soon begin.
In fact the Chinese delegates who came to Derby were still purring about their fantastic experience at Pride Park where DCFC hosted them as VIP guests at the recent Sheffield Wednesday game.

And so, as the headline what?

Well my answer is simple.

As the 21st century evolves cities like Derby, and in turn countries like the UK, are going to have to find a place, new ways of attracting jobs and investment.

Just as 100 years ago we could no longer ignore America, then so today we need to do our best to win new friends. Cities such as Birmingham, Manchester and Nottingham have been doing this for some time.

Derby and Derbyshire might be on catch up but our progress is rapid and, by focusing on Hefei and Anhui as our China market entry points, we might just be onto something this space.


Thursday 9th November - Mind-Boggling

A visit to Hefei provides an immediate insight to what has been happening across China.

Just over 10 years ago this city, on the Yangtze River, had a population of 1 million. Today it has grown to 8 million and will apparently soon hit 10 million - in other words, bigger than London.

And yet, oddly, Hefei is Derby's Chinese twin city.

It gets weirder.

The province in which it sits, Anhui, which has a population of 60 million, the size of the UK, is twinned with Derbyshire.

These twinning deals are the result of what the Chinese call the 'golden era' in relations with the UK; a match made in Beijing and London following President Xi's state visit a few years ago.

Today, while Donald Trump landed in Beijing, delegates from Derby & Derbyshire rocked up in Hefei, hoping to build on last year's first introductory steps by seeking to turn signed memorandums of understanding into action.

China is now the world's largest economy and quickly moving up the economic value chain. If you think China is all about making those dinky little cocktail umbrellas, then you better think again. Observing the hustle and bustle on the street I'm struck by a young, well-educated population, on the move.

Hefei is a good example of a city under rapid development - a result of China's 5-year central planning system. Basically, if it's in the plan it gets delivered.

Take High Speed Rail.

We all know the snail's pace of infrastructure development in the UK. HS2 has been in the pipeline for ages and still not one piece of track has been laid. The third runway at Heathrow is now in its 5th decade of discussion.

Hefei is now home to 5 High Speed rail lines -  the sleek bullet trains reach Shanghai and Beijing in 3 and 4 hours respectively. A further 3 lines are to be delivered by 2020. Across China, 500 new airports are to be completed by 2020.

Derby City Councillor Fareed Hussain, described it all as 'mind boggling' in his opening comments at a round table this morning.

And 'mind boggling' it certainly is.

New concert halls, sports stadia, shopping malls and a frantic construction boom, all explain why Hefei is hitting double digit economic growth.

It ain't all pretty but it certainly is an opportunity.

And that's essentially why we are out here - developing relationships that can increase trade, investment and tourism, plus foster sporting, educational and cultural links.

The benefit could be huge for the UK but also for our local areas.

Today our City, County and University teams have been spread across Hefei on three separate streams of meetings and functions.

But, more on what that means for Derby and Derbyshire tomorrow...



Wednesday 8th November - Über-massive

There is no other way to describe the China International Industry Fair (CIIF) but to say behemoth - bigger than massive...über-massive.

Held in Shanghai's giant NECC, the world's second largest building we are told, the show attracts an astonishing 160,000 visitors. The scale is XXL and walking between its mega-halls you feel like a minor character in Metropolis. 

This year, the UK is the CIIF 'Country of Honour' with a large dedicated pavilion showcasing trade and investment opportunities back home in Blighty.

More than that, today is Midlands Day, meaning attention is focused on our part of the world. The day includes the launch of a 3-year Midlands Engine China strategy by Communities Minister Sajid Javid and Midlands Engine chairman Sir John Peace.

A chance to shine.

The message to our Chinese hosts is simple - please think beyond London. We started the industrial revolution and still have a vital role to play. Think Midlands!

Derby and Derbyshire are well represented. Delegates from the City and County Councils, the University, tourism bodies and the private sector have come together in Shanghai to fly the flag, before moving on to the main business of cultivating our ongoing relationships in Hefei and Anhui.

The launch is packed and is followed by a question and answer session on which I am a panelist.

Derby gets great profile and multiple mentions, not least because of the engaging presence of Rolls-Royce China boss, Julian MacCormac, who has come down from his Beijing office to show his support. Derby is our world HQ and Derby is our heart, he says - music to my ears.

We have come a long way in a short time. A few years ago Derby wouldn’t have been on the radar, whereas now we are name-checked - as a place on the up, with a rock solid global-facing economy. A bonus is that a Rolls-Royce image fronts the Midlands Engine China Strategy document.

As proceedings come to a close we exit the exhibition, joining the madness that is the Shanghai rush hour, to catch one of their wonderful bullet trains speeding us east, at up to 300kmph, towards twin city Hefei.

More on that tomorrow...

Time for the Performance to Begin

The Marketing Derby office is located right in the heart of the city, in Riverside Chambers - a wonderful conversion of the art deco styled Magistrates Court into serviced offices.

Diagonal to us is the decidedly sleek, glassed QUAD – a vibrant hive of cultural activity that attracts over 200,000 visitors annually. Across the road, is the closed down hulk of a building, the brooding, bricked Assembly Rooms and finally, our neighbour, just opposite, is the regenerated Council House.

Being home to the city’s democracy means of course occasional demonstrations gathering on the Council House steps. Riverside Chambers has been our home for two years and during that time I’ve seen all types of protest - from homeless camp-outs, to collectives of loud drums, bells and piercing whistles.

There was a demonstration the other week that had a more pleasant air.

October temperatures hitting 21 degrees meant windows were open and in drifted the gentle sound of choral song. This was clearly a demonstration with a difference.

It turned out to be a group of people from the Derby Arts and Theatre Association (DATA), expressing a view that Derby City Council’s emerging plans for replacing the Assembly Rooms were insufficiently ambitious and seeking to be consulted in the ongoing process.

It turns out, that night, the Council’s Cabinet was considering pressing the green button on the next stage of work required to progress a replacement, essentially committing a further £475,000 to seek a commercial operator, develop outline designs and explore funding opportunities.

DATA won the right to be consulted and the next stage will be on hold until this is done.

This year, the Assembly Rooms is ‘celebrating’ its 40th anniversary, having been opened with much pomp and ceremony by the Queen Mother in 1977. It will soon be four years since it closed, following a fire in the adjacent car park.

I think it’s fair to say that the Assembly Rooms was used, rather than loved. We all have memories of various events it hosted; Genesis in their pomp, the snooker, a party political conference, dinners and concerts.

Towards the end of its time, it became home to the rising genre of stand-up comedians. Indeed, in his autobiography, Dara O Briain describes the Assembly Rooms as being the perfect venue for that type of show – a view I can support having seen him perform there and almost dying of laughter.

I’m okay with DATA being consulted, as Derby’s thriving cultural scene must have a voice. It’s important to consider the replacement carefully, to get it right. Those who live, work and play in the city are all stakeholders, as whatever is built will need to serve us for 50 years. 

But, Derby, listen up, we cannot allow the hiatus to last any longer than absolutely necessary.

We all have views on what we would like to see but the harsh truth is this, it’s not what we might want that matters, it’s what will work that matters.

So, how do we know what will work?

The answer is to do as businesses do, that is to carry out a market assessment, using experts who do this for a living, to give us an honest view of the cost and viability of various options.

That work has now been done.

Derby City Council, via their strategic property advisors Cushman and Wakefield, commissioned two companies to look at the numbers and make recommendations.

Those companies were IPW and HOK.

I hadn’t heard of these guys either but it turns out they are world leaders in their field and have impressive CVs.

IPW worked up the business case for numerous venues including the Edinburgh Convention Bureau, Leeds Arena and the Sochi Concert Hall in Russia.

HOK have 23 offices across the world and recent commissions include the Detroit Events Arena, Barcelona FC and the wonderful Francis Crick Institute next to St Pancras Station.

These are not some non-league players earning a quick buck. IPW and HOK are the Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo of their field and we should consider very carefully what they say.

In a nutshell, their market assessment is that, considering the population size, affluent demographic make-up and existing regional competition, Derby can sustain a commercially operated, 3,000 capacity venue that can host events, concerts, conferences, dinners and tours.

This will cost £32m. The only other option is a lyric theatre that will cost £59m. 

The Council, in considering this market assessment, and its ability to raise the money, has decided that this first option is preferred.

In other words, the 'New Assembly Rooms' will be twice as big, attract at least 322,000 people, support 395 jobs, contribute £10m each year to the city’s economy and act as a catalyst for the Cathedral Quarter and St Peter’s Quarter.

The challenge is how to raise the money. Obviously, there is the insurance cash, plus the fact that the taxpayer has already thrown in £8.6m via the D2N2 LEP. Sales of city centre assets and some borrowing should help close the gap.

A new performance venue is already the number one priority in the city masterplan. It’s supported by the public-private Derby Renaissance Board and Marketing Derby recently held some business Bondholder focus groups that clearly reinforced this.

The message is clear - have the confidence to get on, so that we can retain more of the wealth we create as a city.

Derby is proud of its DNA as a city of makers, a city of doers.

Each week, at Pride Park Stadium, as players pass the ball around, unsure as whether to commit to shoot, the fans shout in unison  - ‘Come on Derby!’

Time for passing around the box is over. It’s time for the performance to begin.

Come on Derby!









Vibrant Energy as City Living is Returning to the Heart of Derby


The primary purpose of the Derby City Masterplan is to create a vibrant city centre in order to make Derby a better place to live, work and visit.

Core to achieving this is the concept of ‘city living’ – that is, attracting greater numbers of people wanting to live in the city centre itself.

In mainland Europe, city living never really went out of fashion, as any visit to France, Germany or Italy will show.

There, city centres tend to be multi-purpose, with thousands of apartments located above the central shops, commercial and leisure activities. Their cities don’t die each day at 5.30pm – indeed, quite the opposite - residents abound, milling around, populating the cafés and stores, participating in social street life, la passeggiata. 

However, over the 20th century, most cities in the United Kingdom and United States abandoned the principle of living in central areas, as residents migrated out to the suburbs and beyond.

The endless miles of anonymous urban sprawl seen in many US cities is quite astonishing.

A few years ago, I drove across what appeared to be 50 miles or so of nondescript San Antonio, Texas. Anyone who has had the dubious pleasure of driving across Los Angeles will know the urban area stretches well beyond 100 miles.

The legacy has been dilapidated and deserted downtowns which only recently are being rediscovered and developed. Key to this revival is city living.

Whether it’s Denver, Houston, or even Los Angeles, US downtown districts are well into a renaissance based on people living downtown. 

Of course, America does everything on a bigger scale. So, whilst it’s true to say that UK cities were never quite abandoned to the levels seen in the US, what did happen here was that zoning polices and practices separated use classes.

Living, working and playing were palmed off to different parts of the city – investment focused on out-of-town shopping, business parks and housing estates – and most city centres became depopulated.

That began to change in the 1990s, led by cities such as Manchester and Leeds, who began to attract residents back to their core.

It might have started with conversions of industrial mills, but soon students, young professionals and, more recently families became citizens of the city centre.

Derby missed out on this revolution. By 2005 we had a city centre that was slowly dying on its feet, a place of convenience not choice.

The introduction of the masterplan in 2005 was the first expression of a desire to regenerate, to learn from others and create a vibrant heart.

Designing and launching masterplans is the easy bit – the challenge is delivery.

In Derby’s case, the first wave of investment was retail- and leisure-based, the catalyst of course being the £340m down payment, made ten years ago, by Australian giant Westfield which created a shopping centre that increased visitor numbers from 16million to 25million.

This was quickly followed by significant investment in infrastructure, hotels, leisure and then, more recently as the city become a more attractive proposition, by residential.

Derby may have been late to the resi-party but we are certainly making up for lost time. Over 1,000 residential units have already been built or converted with a further 2,394 in the immediate pipeline.

Use types has been varied and include: office conversions, such as St Peter’s House or Heritage Gate; new build, such as Compendium Living’s Castleward or Radleigh’s Weavers Point schemes; and student living, such as Roman House and Cathedral Court.

The immediate pipeline includes the two schemes that received planning permission last month – Nightingale Quarter and Prosperity Capital – plus of course the second phase of Jensco’s Friar Gate Square, currently under construction, as evidenced by a tall tower crane on Agard Street.

The impact is becoming apparent – just as it did in other cities – more people on the street. Beneficiaries include local businesses, as well as the City Council, which will soon be receiving significant sums in Council Tax and New Homes Bonus. By our estimate, a scheme such as the DRI, is worth something like £10m over ten years to the local authority.

But, the real benefit is a city growing up, rediscovering some of what made it great as a home, as well as a place of work or leisure.

To that point, I think of St Mary’s Gate, originally a predominately residential street, given over to office use, but where the recent refurbishment of Simpson House and sale of Middleton House for up-market apartments is making it once again a mixed hub in the shadow of the Cathedral.

Vibrant cities feed off the energy of ideas and perspectives. Vibrant cities benefit from diversity – communities and cultures, young and old, in people and places. Vibrant cities are places which accommodate varied uses – working, playing and, now in Derby, living.





Our Challenges Post-Brexit

Post Brexit is a phrase I dislike but it’s one we increasingly have to use.

In March 2019 - a mere 18 months away – the UK will leave the EU. Divorce will follow a rocky 45-year marriage and it’s all beginning to look a little messy.

Brexit appears to bring out the worst in us all.

Leavers chomp at the bit and demand the immediate implementation of the ‘will of the people’. Remainers resist, speculating fears and unknown consequences. The referendum result was so close that calls for a second plebiscite grow daily.

There is intolerance in the national discourse and - whilst angst and anger does seem to be a global phenomenon - it’s hard to identify a time when Britain was so fundamentally fragmented.

Everyone is talking but no one is listening.

You may need to go back to the roundheads and cavaliers of the 17th century to find such fundamental division. Civil war will not happen but the UK does face the greatest existential challenge since it was created, in its current form, in 1922.

The decision taken in the 2016 referendum to leave the EU surprised most people. Few saw it coming.

At the time, officials in Singapore commented, “it is not often you see a country commit economic suicide.” Ouch.

Within days the government, like sterling, had collapsed and the Singaporean prognosis seemed to becoming reality.

Yet, over the following months, little happened.

The economy glided into calmer waters, growth continued, employment rose and the world continued to turn as it normally does.

At Marketing Derby we didn’t see any significant decline in investment enquiries - indeed our major city employers have been busy winning orders and announcing new investments – and there is currently a record number of planning applications being submitted for new city projects.

So, is well then? Has short-term post-referendum panic been replaced by business as usual?

Well, not quite.

What might be described as the ‘phony war’ phrase appears to be over and the reality of negotiating our way out of the world’s largest economic club and into a myriad of bi-lateral relationships is kicking in.

The clock is ticking and the pesky detail of trade, customs, borders and migration, are all lining up for serious attention that demands solutions far beyond the polemic we have been fed by both sides to date.

The pressing of the article 50 button, the snap general election and worsening economic data – growth slowing, inflation rising - have all conspired to make March 2019 loom ever closer. It will soon be Christmas and just think how it immediate Brexit will seem when we return to work in January.

The biggest threat to any economy is uncertainty that will result in delayed investment decisions until the political and economic roadmap is clear.

Unfortunately, government machinery doesn’t turn quickly - we have waited 50 years for a decision on Heathrow, apparently it will take 5 years to fix Big Ben – yet, the most complicated political agreement in our history needs designing and signing with 27 countries and all within 500 days.

Pigs will fly before that happens which is why EU-Brexit transition is suddenly flavour of the month.

If – as part-Derbeian Samuel Johnson one said – patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, then long grass is the refuge of the bureaucrat. They love to kick the can down the road.

There is no doubt that transition will give breathing space for the knitting of complicated deals but its danger is the extension of uncertainty.

It’s a classic choice between the rock and the hard place – a short, sharp shock and peril of falling off a cliff-edge, versus a softened timetable, with danger of economic torpor.   

What strikes me as strange is that the whole negotiation process to date seems to be that the UK is seeking to leave a club whilst trying to keep as many of the club membership benefits as we can – access to the single market, frictionless customs, no hard Irish border etc – but, without paying a fee.

I am unaware of any club – sporting, social or cultural – that would even contemplate such a proposal.

The reaction of some to this is to say, let’s accept we are leaving and just leave. The UK is the world’s 5th largest economy and we can row our won boat.

Sometimes called hard Brexit, other times Empire 2.0, the official term is now Global Britain. The philosophy is simple - it’s a great big world out there, we’ve done it before and we can do it again.

There are two key challenges to this.

First, more that half of our economy is currently traded within the EU club -  £290bn as opposed to £229bn with the rest of the world - so any loss will need replacing elsewhere and all economists accept there will be some.

Second, a trade deal is a two way street. At the moment potential trade deals are being talked of as free tickets to prosperity, an opportunity to sell our goods to others. Seen from the other side, these deals are an opportunity to sell their goods to us.

Take the biggest deal, which is likely to be with the United States.

Today, we sell more to the US than they sell to us - something like £39billion a year. A new, non-EU, UK-US deal is seen across the pond as an opportunity to close this gap, perfectly fitting Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ policy. The recent chlorinated chicken controversy was brief insight into the reality of how this will work.

The view is similar in countries such as China, New Zealand and India – all of whom see deals with post-Brexit UK as opening the market for their exports.

To counter this, we will need a step-change in our own export abilities and we need to ask ourselves some tough questions.  

For example, Germany’s exports to China are currently eight times greater than the UK’s. If we double our trade with India, it will still be a smaller market for us than Belgium.

Brexit has been interpreted by some as the rise of the little Englander – an attempt to stop the world and get off, or an opportunity to recreate empire.

I’m all for a global, outward-facing, internationalist Britain. We should be selling more to the Chinas and Indias of the world, but every sell has to be hard won.

Brexit or not, the UK needs to develop an educated, internationalist workforce, open, engaged and confident on the world stage. We will need to invest in businesses designing products the rest of the world want to buy and then support these companies on their difficult export journey. 

The challenge is huge.

Top of the Midlands Engine

We are on the cusp of another football season (season ticket bought, optimistic head firmly on) and there’s an oft-quoted saying in the game that claims “the table never lies”.

In other words, at the end of a hard season, all the highs and lows, the good luck and bad, are reduced to a simple number – the final position - which becomes the key indicator as to whether a team has been successful or not.

It’s not just in sport that league tables are used as a measure of success.

These days the technique has migrated into almost all sectors – most controversially in measuring school performance – and, of course, the economy.

Last week, a new table - the UK Powerhouse Report - mapped the economic growth of the largest 45 UK cities by looking at GVA, probably the best proxy measure of growth.

The good news is that Derby came out in an impressive tenth place.

The city’s output was up 2.3% on a year ago and is projected to grow by 15.1% over the next ten years.

There is a ‘usual suspect’ factor to these tables and so it was no surprise to see Cambridge and Milton Keynes at the top, nor Middlesbrough and Belfast at the bottom.

Most worryingly for UK plc, the top ten is completely dominated by the south east, with only Derby and Manchester representing the rest of the country.

If you were to create a Midlands Engine table within the table, then Derby would be top and Wolverhampton bottom.

Regular readers of this column will be aware that, when it comes to economic performance tables, Derby does well and is generally there or thereabouts.

I like to think locals understand why this is the case but our presence at or near the top remains a complete surprise to most of the investors we deal with.

Perception of place is probably the strongest currency in the inward investment business. In other words, if a city is not perceived as being economically vibrant then it won’t even make the long-list.

This is why Marketing Derby spends so much time getting on the investment radar and why the core to our pitch is to point to the strength of our economy.

We know that this area is host to some of the world’s greatest businesses – the Bombardiers, JCBs, Nestles, Rolls-Royces and Toyotas of the world – but most investors do not.

I was at a dinner the other evening where I was asked, by a London-based professional, as to what drives the Derby economy?

When I started by mentioning Rolls-Royce there was complete surprise, first that I wasn’t talking about cars, but then at the fact that Derby hosted the company’s world HQ for civil aerospace, nuclear and corporate functions.

Changing perception is a long-term game. I’ve learnt that there is no silver bullet.

Cities like Glasgow, Newcastle and Manchester have struggled with this for decades. They have had considerable success in adopting strategies that shift how their cities are seen, but still have a long way to go.

Marketing Derby entered this field ten years ago when Westfield invested £340m in the city and we have continued to chip away ever since.

A couple of weeks ago we held an Embassy event and innovation exhibition at Lambeth Palace – attended by 150 people and another opportunity to put Derby’s best foot forward.

Last Saturday, we had a major weekend supplement in the Times newspaper, with a readership of 2.1 million. Again, creating a chance to influence a wider audience in a piece that covered the economy, but also culture and quality of life.

Closing the gap between perception and reality takes time, patience and consistency of message, but each event, each league table, contributes in its own way.

If I was to ask you, from the UK Powerhouse Report, which economy is growing fastest between Rotherham and Aberdeen, you may be surprised by the answer.

Why Corporate Nonsense is Clouding the Message

A few months have passed since the incident, but I still cannot resist reflecting on the astonishing story (and accompanying video clip – just Google ‘United airlines rage’) of the passenger being dragged, literally kicking and screaming, off a plane in Chicago.

No matter how many times you view the clip, it never loses its shock value. The back-story is straightforward enough.

A United Airlines flight from Chicago to St Louis was fully boarded, however the company wanted four seats clearing to enable some of its staff to travel.

So, and we have all experienced this at some time, the company sought volunteers willing to receive compensation in order to take the next plane.

Seemingly, the passengers were desperate to get out of Chicago as even a final offer of $800, plus overnight hotel, didn’t appear to do the trick.

So, straws were drawn and one Dr David Dao, a 69-year-old grandfather, was selected for ejection from his seat.

The doctor refused to budge and so Chicago airport police came on board, physically yanked him out of his seat, and dragged him down the isle and off the jet.

Now, here is the Orwellian bit.

As the controversy quickly grew - fuelled by the video clip of the ejection going viral on social media - the CEO of United Airlines, one Oscar Munoz, issued a statement.

I suspect this intervention will forever be studied in Business Schools - that is as a masterclass in what not to say in such circumstances.

Munoz pinned the blame on our good Doctor for being ‘belligerent’ and describing his violent ejection as being ‘re-accommodated’.

The company lost a cool $1billion off its share price within a day but the reason I write about the issue is the depressing devaluation and degradation of language contained in Munoz’s statement.

If the word ‘Orwellianisation’ doesn’t exist, then it really should.

The United Airlines CEO is guilty of a fundamental subversion of language – violent ejection is not re-accommodation. This abuse of language leads it from being a means of communication, to becoming what George Orwell called, a ‘boot in the face, forever’.

What’s most disturbing is the fact that the final nail hammering has not been the handiwork of political dictators anticipated in Orwell’s works, such as Animal Farm or 1984, but it has come from the corporate world, from business no less.

Orwell’s imagining of ‘thought crimes’ and ‘newspeak’  - War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength – soon became adopted by politicians and bureaucrats.

Read carefully almost any government statement, from any country, and the clues are there.

At best, they form a polemic to ward off enquiry - Brexit means Brexit – at worst, twisted statistics are used to cover off a good old-fashioned porky.

Any hope that business can be different, that the direct contractual and financial relationship between customer and provider, might lead to a clarity and honesty is slowly being eroded by the corporate nonsense encapsulated by United’s CEO.

Almost every morning, BBC Radio 4’s Today programme will include an interview with a FTSE CEO being asked to comment on company performance and prospects.

More often than not, the interviewee, despite the multi-million pound salary package, comes across more as a yapping salesman on commission, desperately weaving shout-outs for their product.

It seems that the evolution of media training has finally ironed out attempts at honesty, and tiresome spin becomes King.

The trouble is that this type of behaviour reinforces the growing disconnect between the haves and have-nots.

Mistrust breeds and the vacuum in trust is then filled by those with malintent, as manifested by recent political earthquakes.

I’m acutely aware of this in marketing a city.

I’ve seen isolated cities promoted as accessible and dangerous places pitched as safe. 

From the start, we have genuinely tried to promote Derby on the basis of fact, supported by third-party endorsements, thus avoiding the crazy claims conundrum.

A quick look at our city marketing materials will throw up our style.

Quotes from credible sources is our modus operandi, the likes of the Financial Times or named investors, backed up with researched numbers - 2.1m people in 45 minutes or 11.8% working in hi-tech functions – which, if tested, we can defend.

Of course, we do want to put the city’s best foot forward which, as a minimum means that in the vast majority of our city photographs and films, you will notice it is always sunny here in Derby UK…












Ready for the Fifth Age

Whatever your views on the rights and wrongs of Brexit, there is a danger that our national discourse becomes inward-looking and parochial.

Since the referendum result a year ago, I have had something like this said to me, on a number of occasions, in places as diverse as America, China and unsurprisingly, in mainland Europe itself.

The perception expressed is that the UK has turned its back on the world and wants to go alone – a case of ‘stop the world, I want to get off’.

It was therefore very useful to have a counter-narrative - outward looking and global - at the Derby Property Summit last week from Yolande Barnes.

Yolande can’t be parochial - she is one of those people with the word ‘world’ in her job title – and, as Director of World Research for Savills, she gave a keynote that covered off over a thousand years of city evolution across the globe.

Savills itself employs 30,000 people across 60 countries and Yolande’s challenge was, using this source of intelligence, to draw on some learning for Derby.

The Property Summit is not only one of Marketing Derby’s main events, but it has become an important date on the property community calendar.

Of the 350 delegates packed into Pride Park Stadium in last week’s heat (do you remember that?), nearly 100 were from out of town, with many coming up from London.

We like the summit to provide some stretching thought leadership, as well as give updates on prospects in Derby, and Yolande’s scene-setter delivered this to a tee.

Her main contention is that cities (including of course the property and development community within cities) need to be aware of two key driving forces defining their future; technology and demographics.

On the first, her view is that we are about to enter what she called the ‘fifth age’ of cities – the digital age.

The evolution of the urban form has moved from the agrarian age, through industrialisation, mercantile and capital ages, to today’s digital challenge.

This model is easily applied to Derby; from county town up until the 17th century, through the industrial revolution of the 18th, rail connectivity of the 19th and suburban growth of the 20th centuries.

In her view, the digital age will provide smaller cities with massive opportunities as the significant critical mass required in the last phase – in particular access to capital – becomes less important.

That is where the second trend becomes important, that of demographic change.

The headline is simple – by 2025 more than 75% of the world’s workforce will be millennials and cities will have to fight to attract and retain them in their workforce.

More than this, well-educated and productive millennials will invariably be mobile and ruthless in their choice of location.

Economic development goes hand-in-hand with urbanisation and all research is showing that talent increasingly wants to be located in city centres.

The fall and rise of city centres has been well documented and you can see this across America and Europe. Cities like Manchester have led the way but others are becoming places of choice for living, working and playing.

Yolande argued that, in the future, out-of-town retail and business parks will struggle when pitted against the hustle and bustle of downtown. A couple of weeks ago I saw a suburban shopping mall in California converted into a college.

But, it is clearly happening closer to home.

For the first time in centuries, last year, there were more residential units planned in Derby city centre than in the rest of the wider city.

Add to this brands, such as TK Maxx - which has announced new investments in the city - plus the massive success of Derby City Council’s Connect office scheme, and you start to get a glimpse that maybe Yolande is on to something.

A compact city 90 minutes from London, home to some of the world’s leading companies and a University now rated in the UK’s top 20%, with a city centre under transformation having attracted over £3billion of investment, may well be a candidate to pilot the city of the digital age…   

Derby - Be Surprised

Ten years ago, Westfield carried out an intensive marketing campaign, aimed at convincing major retail brands to consider opening a store in their shiny new Derby scheme which was, at that time, still under construction.

The campaign was called ‘Be Surprised’.

Westfield, based in Sydney Australia, may be the world’s largest retail property company, but they had no presence in Europe and their market entry euro-plan was to start with the UK, before moving onto the continent itself.

The strategy was simple. Buy a number of key shopping centres and sites – Belfast, Birmingham, Bradford, Derby, Nottingham, London, Tunbridge Wells et al – and, over a period of time, develop them out.

The London scheme was always going to be developed second, so the analysts scoured the UK and crunched the numbers on where to start.

The result, one that truly shocked the market, was that they selected Derby to be first, making an unprecedented £340m investment in the city.

Many will remember the construction phase, with five massive cranes towering over the city, but less known was the effort that had to be put into attracting tenants.

For Westfield, the opportunity seemed straightforward. The numbers showed Derby had the strongest demographic yet the weakest product. Build it and they will come.

Employment and salaries in and around the city were high but the opportunity to spend was poor.

This meant that Derby had become a place of convenience not choice and the city leaked its wealth to the likes of Meadowhall and Nottingham.   

But, in trying to sell that narrative to retailers, Westfield kept running into the gap between perception and reality.

The logic of the numbers may have pointed to Derby but there was an awful lot of convincing to do.

The retail community and their professional advisors were quite resistant and needed convincing – thus the creation of the ‘Be Surprised’ campaign.

Later in 2007, when Westfield Derby opened its doors, retailers that had never had a presence in the city – brands such as All Saints, Build-a-Bear, H&M, Paperchase and Zara – were present.

The 2008 crash changed the world and certainly ended Westfield’s grand plans, with only Derby and London being developed. 

They sold off their UK interests as the strategy shifted to focus on iconic cities (apparently, the cash from Derby’s sale is being used to build Westfield Milan which opens in 2020).

The need to work on retailers’ perceptions has been successfully continued by the team at intu (which bought the centre in 2014 for £390m) - think of the arrival of brands such as Byron, Carluccio's, Cath Kidston and MAC among others – and the sell is getting a little easier now there is a 10-year track record.

The gap between perception and reality, and the need to sell ‘surprise’, have been core factors in the work of Marketing Derby and remains so.

I still meet investors or business leaders oblivious to the nature and strength of our economy and the opportunities that provides.

The city has attracted £3billion of investment and many of our greatest successes have emanated from London as the UK’s centre of power and decision-making.

That is why this summer we are intensifying our efforts in the capital.

Last week, we opened a virtual base in the city and will soon be hosting promotional investor events at Lambeth Palace and City Hall, as well as launching a London Ambassador Club. 

We still like to surprise – our London office innovation is unique and has grabbed much attention and positive comment from investors – but today our pitch has a more confident platform and is more likely to be based on opportunity, as opposed to revelation.