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Three ways economic development can help business today

 

What are the three ways economic development can help business today?

Collecting the bins and planning are statutory functions at most local authorities in England, economic development  (ED) function is not a statutory function.  So it is right that we ask what is the value of economic development and what contribution does it make to business growth.

This article sets out the three ways economic development can help business today.   So here we go, we hope this article contributes to the discussion about what local government can do to boost business.

  1. Bring together local agencies
    Economic development should have a focus on bringing growth and investment to the area.   As an economic development professional your role is to stay focussed on this.  In England local authorities cannot set the tone and direction for economic development by themselves.  Economic development has a collaborative attitude which recognises the uniqueness and value that other organisations can bring.  Economic growth comes through collaboration.   Central government, Local Enterprise Partnerships, Councils, Chambers of Commerce all have a part to play.   Success will only come from these agencies collaborate.

  2. Share insight
    There is such a wealth of information and data available to us.  We do not need to rely on who shouts loudest in the room, or those with fixed opinions based on personal prejudices.

    By sharing data we can bring different sources together to build a nuanced, clear picture of the current situation.   This will then lead to insights and perspectives on the problem.  For example at a recent client meeting we were able to bring new data on road traffic patterns which fundamentally changed the ways the client “framed” the problem of traffic exiting a business park.

  3. Set out and own a vision for the district
    We’ve been saving the best until last!  It is not the job of business to create and own vision for the locality.   Business look to local authorities for vision and leadership of place.   Leadership and vision is central to economic development

    So let’s get to work!

 

 

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How (not) to sell infrastructure projects

What do we mean by Infrastructure?

Infrastructure – roads, rail, sewerage, airports are often big projects which offer benefits for future generations.  But infrastructure projects also often have big implications – including big disruption for the residents who have to contend with the traffic diversions, noise and change.

OK, give me some examples…

Red Potato have been involved in the project specification for minor road changes which will offer business benefits to those most disrupted.  The projects will help make it easier for businesses to get to, and from a business park.  Why is this important?  Because it directly effects business performance.  For instance, the ability to attract high quality employees.  If potential employees are faced with choosing to sit in traffic for upwards of an hour to travel a couple of miles or take a job somewhere else; it is an easy choice. Most employees want quality of life, to be home in time to go the gym or read the bedtime story.  Not be sitting in a traffic jam.   So infrastructure projects are important and can deliver real benefits.

So what needs to change?

If infrastructure is so important, why are we so bad at demonstrating the benefits?  Too often projects are into the mechanics of delivery and they loose focus on what problems they are seeking to solve.  So here is the plea…keep the focus on the what drives the project.  Without this focus we loose sight of the project objectives and ultimately that infrastructure, roads, rail, airports must be able to show clear benefits.  And those benefits should include how communities improve not just some Treasury statistics.

 

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The real reason for a Jobs Fair

For the last few months we have been working with colleagues at The Galleria shopping centre. That work will come to fruition this week at the Galleria Jobs Fair!

The Jobs Fair at the Galleria Shopping Centre will highlight the range of jobs that are available now.  Even though they are local jobs, for many local people this will be the first time they have considered working for the employers at the event.

The benefit is also for the employers who are coming to the Jobs Fair.   The event has been really popular with employers.  The event has been so popular that we quickly exceeded the maximum number of places available:  Last week we had to find more space for the extra employers who wished to come to the event!

The value of the Jobs Fair will be different according to whether you are a job seeker or an employer.   If you are a job seeker and you find your ideal job that is a result for you.  If you are are an employer and you find an employee to help your business that is also a result.

But wait!  There is also another reason this is a good thing.  There is a real reason that the Jobs Fair is good for the local area.  New ideas are created, aspirations are raised and change happens, by bringing together employers and job seekers under roof.   Here at Red Potato we are pleased to have been a part of this process

Red Potato will broadcast a live video stream from the event in Hatfield; so make sure you tune in to the show via Periscope!

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January snow & forecasting

Snowday or not?

At the weekend we had the first dusting of 2016 snow here in hardy Hertfordshire!  It didn’t last long. It was not enough to make it a #Snowday. No school closures and no bringing the Monday morning traffic to a halt!

The weather forecast gave us sufficient warning so we were able to prepare for a day of snowball fights.  Economic forecasts should also enable us to prepare for changes; for example planning for interest rate rises.  Recently Red Potato have been asked to undertake surveys for local businesses.  In each case the business was keen to understand what their customer thought about their products and services.  Red Potato have then helped those businesses with some simple programmes to build upon what they are good at and address the concerns raised by customers.

Good market research can’t prevent winter weather but it can help businesses adjust and take pre-emptive steps to ensure they are prepared for economic headwinds.

snow

 

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Some nice workshop feedback…thanks!

Education workshop feedback

Since our intervention, Red Potato staff have received this great workshop feedback.

Many thanks to @welhatcouncil for these kind comments:

“We would like to thank the The Director of Red Potato, Jay Wheeler, who led the Education Workshop on Apprenticeships, Skills & Training at the Welwyn Hatfield Annual Alliance Conference on the 12th of November 2015. Delivering this key workshop played a valuable part in contributing to the overall success of the Conference which saw the launch of the Welwyn Hatfield Economic Development Strategy 2015/2016.”

At the conference it was great to hear from local schools, colleges and business leaders.  Most noteworthy was the way everyone committed to improving the prospects for young people in Hertfordshire.

So, as a consequence of the conference, it seems business and schools will work together more effectively.  If as a result of our intervention at the conference, we make this happen more quickly, so much the better!

http://www.welhat.gov.uk/article/6178/13112015-Alliance-convenes-for-launch-of-Economic-Development-Strategy
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#RBWeek

Today, Business in the Community has launched “Responsible Business Week 2015”. Red Potato are very happy to support #RBWeek.  Red Potato will (fingers crossed!) be offering a great work placement opportunity for a local student to develop some funky stuff, later this week.  More news on that after the interviews!

Responsible Business Week got us thinking…shouldn’t every week be “Responsible Business Week”? Isn’t it good business practice that a business needs to have roots in the communities it serves?

BITC_Planters_Categories_SUPPORTING_AW Continue reading #RBWeek

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“If it is too good to be true…it probably is” International Trade Enquiries 101

On Christmas Eve, as England experienced unseasonal heavy rain and high winds, Red Potato received an enquiry from Pakistan to supply us with several containers of white potatoes.  The variety of potato? Santa.  Yep, you can’t make it up, someone on Christmas Eve, wanted to sell us white Santa potatoes!

It may not have been a scam, but it made us laugh all the same.

The Red Potato company brand is about being flexible, versatile and down to earth – much like the humble potato.  We also have a company compost heap which is used to grow Red Spuds, but there the similarity ends.   The core business for Red Potato is about working in partnership with organisations who want better insight and stronger economic engagement with local communities.   By working together we attract investment to an area, help new entrepreneurs learn from seasoned entrepreneurs, create snappy animated films to demonstrate project outcomes and help public sector organisations engage with local business communities.

Red Potato has recently been accepted onto the UKTI East “Passport to Export” (P2E) programme.  What has been very helpful is the opportunity to talk to the local International Trade Advisor at UKTI East.   We’ve discussed things such potential liability from unsolicited enquires for Santa spuds on Christmas Eve, what practical steps to take about making your website attractive to overseas buyers and the merits of different routes to market.  And we’ve not even been on the P2E workshop yet!

All this means is that hopefully before the next crop of Santa spuds have been harvested Red Potato will be trading successfully abroad.

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Promoting apprenticeships to SMEs: Training providers need to wake up and smell the roses

The florist said “they never send me anyone who can work out the cost of half a dozen flower stems to make a bouquet and be trusted to write a greetings card without making a spelling mistake”. Everyone nodded their heads in agreement and the discussion moved on.

We were talking about apprenticeships at one of the many business networking groups that run each week across the UK.  These networking groups attract business owners from small local businesses, with the prospect of building new business contacts and new clients over breakfast.   Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) accounted for 99.9% of all private sector business in the UK, employ 14.1 million people and have a combined turnover of £1,500 Billion,  so they need to be on board when it comes to apprenticeships.  The conversations we’ve had with many SME business owners suggest that the comment from the florist is not untypical, and there is some scepticism about apprenticeships, particularly among small and micro-size businesses.

Yet Recent research by ICM showed that employers rated qualified apprentices 15% more employable than those with other qualifications.   On closer inspection the employers interviewed were mostly large blue chip corporates, with HR departments and dedicated staff who can focus on employee learning and development.   In SMEs the business owner, may also be in charge of HR, aswell as cashflow, sales, marketing and production – it is no wonder that anecdotal evidence suggests that small and micro businesses are not taking on apprentices.

The reasons for low take-up of apprentices by SMEs vary, but the two most often reasons cited were the inability of recruit someone with the right skills and competencies and secondly that there was insufficient work to employ a new fulltime employee for at least 30 hours per week – one of the criteria for recruiting an apprentice.    Perhaps surprisingly none of the business owners we spoke with said that they weren’t prepared to take on an apprentice because of the time to train and develop a new person.   Business owners understand the need for a succession plan – and they want to make sure that any apprentice coming into the business has the core competencies they expect of other employees.

In many ways setting a “high bar for entry” is reassuring and a good sign.   The Apprenticeships Agreement “reflects the fact that an Apprenticeship is primarily a job rather than training”.   So business owners are right to have the same expectations of an apprentice joining their business as they would for any other employee.

Apprenticeships can help improve the business bottom line, but it needs to be made easier for small and micro sized businesses to recruit and employ apprentices.   To do this training providers and colleges need to get out and engage with their local SME community.   Training providers must listen hard to the objections, the misunderstandings and prejudices of business owners and then systematically prove that their organisation can address those concerns effectively.  The solution could be designing a programme whereby an apprentice is “shared” by a group of SMEs or simply checking that the apprentices they send to a florist can work out the what is the most profitable bouquet.

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How Local Strategic Partnerships can help stimulate (very) local economic change

Much of the economic debate is about the role of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPS).  LEPs have the critical mass and potential access to resources to drive change and attract major investment to an area.  So what role if any do the Local Strategic Partnerships (LSP) have?  At a time of pressure on public sector finances, some local authorities are wondering what contribution the LSP makes to local wellbeing.   Perhaps one answer is for LSPs to remain hyper local and focus on economic change for individuals and neighbourhoods.    What follows is a brief description of how one LSP has addressed this challenge.

The Welwyn Hatfield Alliance (LSP) is located centrally in Hertfordshire, England.  The Borough includes the new towns of Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City aswell as several large villages, overall the population was estimated to be 114,400 in mid 2010

The Council has had to reduce its overall budget, at a time when demand for some services has increased due to the effects of the economic recession.  The focus of the Council is to provide strong community leadership.   This includes helping local people to compete for local jobs and supporting local business.

Action

Red Potato worked with partners from the Welwyn Hatfield Alliance (Local Strategic Partnership) to bring a new perspective on youth unemployment and entrepreneurship.   The aim was to replace, “silo” based economic development with a business driven campaign to improve the local economy and entrepreneurship.

Result

This is what we have done together:

  1. Set up a work placement scheme in which those on work placement are supported by an accredited mentoring programme
  2. Attracted FTSE100 CEOs to discuss with students their vision for business
  3. Local schools and college students have competed to raise the most money from a business idea for local charities
  4. Engaged local small and medium sized employers in apprenticeship schemes
  5. Attracted new employers to be involved in local Jobs Fairs

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Mentoring for life: Are troubled teenagers and business entrepreneurs made from the same stuff?

When it comes to mentoring it can mean very different things to different people: ranging from social befriending through to a strict focus on shared objectives mentoring.   Befriending may include things like helping someone to take small steps to overcome a fear of open spaces for example.   The warmth, encouragement and support from befriending can be crucial in helping, as sometimes statutory services are more interested in measuring the output of their work and encouraged to maintain a professional distance from “clients”.     Other benefits such as building confidence may occur following from those first steps outside the home, but in the case of befriending this isn’t the aim.

In my opinion, strict enterprise mentoring involves working with the client on agreed objectives which are stated and agreed from the start – for instance how to prepare a business for trade sale, or entry to a new market.  Any social relationship achieved is incidental to the business objectives.  SFEDI (Sector Skills body for Enterprise) says that mentor/mentee relationship should enable the mentee to “develop goals that will have a positive impact on their business enterprise”.    There is a clear focus and aim for the mentoring relationship.

In contrast to the business objectives of enterprise mentoring, community mentoring is about helping adults and children develop as individuals, so that they find their true self.  To do this the mentor needs to understand their own personal boundaries.  Without an understanding of their identity, the mentor can end up confusing the mentee about who is the client!

So having established the differences between enterprise and community mentoring, I’m now going to say in many ways they are also very similar.  For instance building a relationship based on equality, openness and trust is common to all types of mentoring.    Perhaps less obvious though is the possibility that those same troubled young people could with the right form of guidance and mentoring  go onto to set up and run the next generation of enterprises.   Even if you ignore the other reasons to get mentoring, the powerful impact of mentoring on life chances and entrepreneurialism, should be a strong motivator for business people to get mentoring.