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It may be simply that the perception of what these companies do is outdated, or that some haven’t stopped to think to make the connection between this and economic growth.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