Writing for LBN, Southport BID chief executive Rachel Fitzgerald says the key to the town’s future prosperity is collaboration between different business and across multiple sectors
Ask anyone in the UK what they know about Southport and it is likely you will always get a similar answer – traditional seaside resort with hotels, restaurants and a fairground and, of course, the flower show.
We are rightly proud of that reputation. Generations of people from within the Liverpool city region, and much further afield, have wonderful memories of visits to our beautiful town. And there are exciting plans in the pipeline to further enhance that visitor offer.
However, as we finally start to emerge from the devastating COVID-19 pandemic it has become ever more obvious that the most resilient economies, and towns and cities, are those that embrace, and invest in, business diversity and collaboration.
Last week on LBN the spotlight was put on three remarkable Southport businesses – Inciner8, Isotech and Lattimer. All three are advanced manufacturers employing skilled people in high value jobs. They innovate, they make and they export to customers all over the world.
Inciner8 designs and manufactures incinerators and is a respected name in global waste management. Isotech is a manufacturer of temperature calibration systems and its clients include NASA. Lattimer is a manufacturer and exporter of components for machines that make glass containers, exporting to more than 70 countries worldwide.
How many of us, even those who have lived here in Southport all their lives, knew about these dynamic world-class businesses? In recent months we have also highlighted thriving businesses in other sectors such as digital and professional services.
This matters because Southport cannot exist in its own bubble. It is part of an economic eco-system in Sefton, in Liverpool city region, in the UK and across the world. We live in a global economy that is becoming increasingly interconnected.
At a maritime industry conference in Wirral in June, Clive Hickman, chief executive of the Manufacturing Technology Centre, which has a big base in Liverpool, said: “It is a classic British trait to always think your main competitor is next door and not on the other side of the world.”
If you are a bar, or a restaurant, or a visitor attraction, that is undoubtedly true. However, if you are a manufacturer, or a video games developer or a professional services firm, then the pool of competitors becomes much wider. And that doesn’t just apply to winning customers.
Managing director of Lattimer, Mark Hailwood, says finding, and retaining, the right people with the right skills for the company is an ongoing battle. It is not unknown for his best engineering apprentices to be picked off by BAE and Jaguar Land Rover, as well as the Royal Navy.
One of the other big messages to come from the maritime conference was the value of collaboration. Businesses, or smaller groups of businesses, sitting in silos and protecting their turf is ultimately counterproductive. Places where businesses, the local authority, and local people work together stand a much better chance of prospering.
Just last week Lord Heseltine returned to Liverpool to tell the story of his arrival in 1981 to see the devastation caused by the Toxteth riots. He put together a task force of the brightest people from both the public and private sectors. They devised 30 projects that kick-started the city’s economic renaissance. They worked together. It is the only way.
Mark Hailwood’s answer to plugging his ongoing skills gap is to work with Southport College which, in a great demonstration of collaboration and forward-thinking, is tailoring its courses to meet the needs of Lattimer.
That, in turn, helps us tackle the issue of ‘youth flight’, Southport youngsters leaving the town in search of better jobs elsewhere. There will always be young people who want to spread their wings further afield but how great would it be to be able to offer them rewarding careers right here in the town.
Some fantastic ideas are coming down the track for Southport – new visitor attractions, hotels, an incubator for digital and creative businesses, a new conference and events centre. Then there is our ambitious plan to tap into the transatlantic internet cable and become one of the most digitally-connected locations in Europe.
Delivery of these projects requires vision and ambition and it also requires everyone in Southport to think of themselves as part of the bigger ecosystem. If we speak with one voice then we have a better chance of being heard.