When I worked in London, there was a perception that ‘there’s not much going on past Bristol’. People were happy to holiday in the South West but weren’t convinced that tourism aside, there was much business to write home about. I am delighted to say those who held that view were so very wrong!
Devon, along with two other South West local authority areas (Bath and North East Somerset and Dorset) has topped a recent ‘Thriving Places Index’ compiled by wellbeing charity ‘Happy City’. And whilst this research shows there is more to life than economic indicators such as GDP, and I agree, I also believe that a flourishing business community is absolutely necessary for the success of a region and its residents.
As is natural when you first set up a business and are new to an area (professionally anyway, I grew up in Devon), I have spent a lot of time networking – both in person and on social media. In that short time, I have discovered a vibrant and highly engaged business community formed of companies of all sizes and across many sectors.
From well-known brands such as Ginsters, Princess Yachts and The Range through to award-winning ‘mumpreneurs’ Sarah Hyde, founder of the ‘Bottle Buddi’ and Jodine Boothby who invented the ‘Gummee Glove’ and everything in between, the West of the South West is certainly doing its bit for the economy.
There is a thriving Professional Services community made up of firms of varying sizes with innovative business models such as employee-owned firms and those which are solely partner-led and do not have any junior resource or supporting infrastructure (meaning partners organise their own events!). Many firms service national and international clients from their West-South West bases and have reported impressive growth figures.
Technology companies also have a strong presence. Plymouth Science Park is the largest science and technology ‘hub’ in the South West and the businesses located there have a combined turnover of over £100m. Sponge UK offers innovative e-learning experiences and counts Tesco, Diageo, Astra Zeneca and a number of other well-known brands as its clients. Acronyms is a flourishing IT solutions provider, committed to offering an excellent standard of client service and ensuring its clients are supplied with a solution that really fits their needs.
The ‘gig’ economy has been embraced by a number of individuals seeking a more flexible approach to work. It’s not uncommon to meet people who have worked in-house, now offering their expertise on a freelance basis so that they can more easily make the most of the outdoor pursuits readily available in this area.
One sector which is sadly struggling (across the board, not just here) is independent retail. Someone who recently moved to my home town of Tavistock from the outskirts of London bemoaned the lack of chain restaurants in the town. While chains have their place, in a place like Tavistock, and other market towns in the region, it’s our independent shops, cafes and restaurants which give areas character and a unique experience to both locals and tourists. These locally owned businesses often struggle outside the traditional tourist season and without local support, face a real uphill struggle to keep going so the message there is ‘use it or lose it’,
Underpinning the business community in the region are a number of networks where people are welcoming, friendly and willing to introduce you to their contacts. There are the hugely popular Women in Business in Plymouth and Exeter groups which are run by the organisers free of charge because ‘it’s nice to be nice and it’s good to be good’. The Samphire Club, whose ethos is ‘people buy people they like’ is a networking group where relationships based on a non-professional basis are encouraged with the view that if you connect on a personal level, you are more likely to do business together. There are ‘notworking’ events where sales talk is banned, and even events based around our local delicacy of the cream tea!
I love living and working in this area (despite the rain!) and although I did work away for a number of years, I couldn’t think of anywhere better to raise my children and run my business. I hope that the many students studying in the area consider a career with one of the many excellent businesses in the West of the South West before looking further afield because we are very much open for business!