Business leaders optimistic for county's future

There was an optimistic mood among business leaders gathered at a roundtable debate organised by Downtown in Business and hosted by the University of Central Lancashire.

Frank McKenna Joel Arber Lancashire debate

A panel was gathered to explore how the county can identify, distinguish and make attractive a coherent offer.

The discussion highlighted the issues facing SMEs and how they can be tackled by positioning Lancashire in its best possible light.

The panel consisted of Joel Arber, pro vice-chancellor (external relations) at UCLan, Rachel McQueen, chief executive of Marketing Lancashire, Karen Hirst, managing director of Maple Grove Developments, part of the Eric Wright Group and was chaired by Frank McKenna, chief executive of Downtown in Business.

Joel Arber, who is responsible for external engagement and policy shaping at UCLan, said: “UCLan is very much a civic anchor institution for Lancashire. As a large employer and a big business in our own right, we also see the importance of adding social value and playing our role in the economic prosperity of the places in which we operate – whether that’s in Preston or Burnley in Lancashire, or in Whitehaven, Cumbria or Larnaca, Cyprus.

“In terms of the university’s contribution to the local economy and place making in Preston, our £200m masterplan which includes a £30m plus Engineering Innovation Centre and Adelphi Square, which will be an iconic gateway to the university, will add real value to Preston and its communities."

He added: "There are so many reasons to be attracted to Lancashire and everything that it has to offer. Opportunities for a fantastic work/life balance, connectivity and job opportunities”.

Panelists discussed how certain factors within Lancashire had an impact on SMEs including image, amenities, connectivity and sociability.

Karen Hirst said that although sometimes it is challenging with a ‘two tier’ system with Lancashire County Council and the Unitary District Councils, the local authorities are working hard to ensure that the Lancashire brand is being promoted in a more coordinated fashion.

She said: “MIPIM UK was a further indication that the county was coming together, working collaboratively, and putting out a message of positivity about the potential for growth and investment in Lancashire. The next steps are to make our messaging clearer and promote more widely”.

Downtown’s Frank McKenna said: “What we have heard today should encourage Lancashire’s business community that there is a vision and ambition in place to drive economic growth for the county. Nevertheless, challenges remain, not least the lack of a genuine county ‘hub’, and our failure to progress on the devolution/Northern Powerhouse agenda.

"It’s certainly ‘glass half-full’ time though, and some of the work that Rachel and her team are delivering at Marketing Lancashire is first class.”

Rachel McQueen, of Marketing Lancashire, said: “Lancashire’s profile is improving both nationally and internationally, but more needs to be done and, most importantly, it needs to be done in partnership to enhance and amplify our county voice.

“We are more active now, in terms of getting out and about and telling people about the great opportunities that exist in Lancashire.

"However, we do need to get smarter and more consistent in our messaging. Going forward we need to focus more on business potential as well as the visitor economy, that naturally formed a great deal of our early work and which certainly elevated the culture and lifestyle benefits of living and working in Lancashire. "We have a very strong proposition both in terms of quality of life and investment potential and we aim to exploit that fully.”