Swindon’s diverse economy is providing it with good growth prospects after a difficult 12 months, the Influence Swindon conference heard today.
While the town has suffered from jobs losses by major employers such as Honda and Triumph International, the mood was now more positive, Influence Swindon chairman Nicky Alberry said.
And with major projects under way including the Regent Circus cinema, supermarket and leisure scheme and the Kimmerfields mixed-use development in the town centre, the town was bouncing back, she said.
Nicky Alberry kicked off the conference in the town’s STEAM museum this morning ahead of the Business Show Swindon staged in the same location. The show attracted nearly 1,000 people with all exhibition stands and seminars sold out.
The Influence Swindon conference gave delegates a chance to gain an overview of the initiatives that will shape the town’s economy over the next year, including the University Technical College (UTC), which opens in September, a new emphasis on skills and employment for the town’s young people and the long-held ambition to build a major museum and contemporary art gallery in the town centre.
Matteo Carrozza, senior economist at Swindon-based building society Nationwide, put the town’s economic bounce back in the context of the national and global economy – both of which have a major impact on the town.
He said Swindon’s diverse economy with major manufacturers such as Honda, BMW and Intel, large service firms such as Nationwide and Zurich and a strong SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) sector meant it was recovering fast.
And while the town lacks a university or major higher education establishment, it performed well in research and development. It was also benefiting from investment in the car industry.
The theme switched to the role that culture can play in economic regeneration with a presentation by Robert Hiscox, honorary president of Hiscox Insurance, who is spearheading efforts to develop a museum and art gallery in the town centre.
In a speech that pulled few punches in its description of Swindon’s town centre – he described it as ‘architecturally-challenged’ – he said there was a tremendous spirit to succeed in the town.
The idea is to build a showpiece museum and gallery to house Swindon Council’s contemporary art and ceramics collection, which would also act as a catalyst to regenerate the whole town centre.
“Houses, cafes, book shops – all these things will blossom around it,” he said. “It will bring a cultural, pulsating heart to the town.”
Mike Godfrey, chairman of the Swindon Skills and Employment Partnership, outlined its priorities to improve the skills of the town’s young people along with the longer term ambition to develop a higher education centre in the town.
The theme continued with Paul Holme, pictured above, a director of the UTC and an engineer at Johnson Matthey Fuel Cells’ Swindon plant, who gave an update on the UTC, which opens this September.
Johnson Matthey Fuel Cells is the UTC’s lead employer sponsor but it had attracted 68 businesses as supporting partners – making it the best-backed UTC in the country.
Also speaking were Paddy Bradley, head of economy and skills at Swindon Council, who gave details of the new local procurement project to help SMEs sell to the public sector, and Brig Piers Henkinson of 43 (Wessex) Brigade who spoke about the importance of reservists to the British Army and explained how businesses could help.