With so much investment in Wales to develop a thriving tech scene within the big cities, one might question why RWA has chosen to run their My Development Zone e-Learning operation from the heady heights of a mountain at the top of the South Wales Valleys that is famed more for its industrial heritage and tourism than its technology
With a population of just over 6,000 and a high street that is over 1,000 feet high, eyebrows are often raised when we tell people we are not based in Cardiff. On paper, it might seem like a crazy idea: no train links, small recruitment pool, a 45-60 minute drive to Cardiff and no thriving pub and club scene; but actually we think it’s great and we think more and more tech companies should look to develop and expand across the South Wales Valleys and would welcome further investment from Welsh Government to support this drive.
Less money on space means more investment where it matters
Office rental is low. Typically, within Torfaen, you will be looking at office rentals that are a fraction of those advertised in Cardiff with plenty of room for negotiation. The cost of buying is also affordable. Three years ago, RWA purchased a former pub in Blaenavon’s Broad Street for £50k that had been empty for a number of years. Having converted it to offices (retaining the bar and pool table), we have benefited from a space from within which we have been able to grow and have recently purchased another building in the town as we have now outgrown our existing office. Couple these overheads with low business rates and we have been able to keep our product costs low and invest in our people to help us develop and grow our business.
As a company, with such affordable overheads, we can invest in bringing in more employees and still be able to offer competitive salaries and excellent working conditions.
Avoid the herd. Not everyone wants to live and work in the City
Blaenavon is surrounded by stunning scenery. For those who like outdoor pursuits then the town offers some great activities on our doorstep. Regularly you will see walkers, runners, cyclists and paragliders enjoying the great outdoors and we have very active sports teams in the town such as the rugby and football teams.
House prices are low, too. A two-bedroom terrace can be purchased for between £50,000 and £90,000 and a three-bed family home can be purchased for £125,000 or more. That’s attractive to young people and families who want to own their own homes.
Our employees don’t want to work in the City and they enjoy the freedom that working in the Valleys brings. This allows us to attract and retain local talent.
The cost of a pint in a local pub? About £2.50 – £3.50. We have a great selection of bars, restaurants, shops, a hotel and some very comfortable B&Bs.
We have some very large clients who regularly visit and they enjoy the peace and quiet, and often they will extend their visits and use the town as a starting point for a short break in the Valleys and the Brecon Beacons.
The lack of commute means a fresher workforce
My commute is a 3-minute walk. For some of our employees, it is even shorter. The furthest commute that any of our employees has is 25 minutes, and that is always in the opposite direction of the rush hour traffic. If that employee had to travel to Cardiff every day, he would be looking at probably doubling that time for a shorter journey length.
Employees with families are able to pick up their children from school/ nursery at a reasonable time, and we all benefit from longer hours at home where we are not stuck in traffic or on public transport.
Commuting is stressful and starts employees on the wrong footing each day. We promote a happy and relaxed work environment, and our team is more productive when they are ready to start work as soon as they arrive in the office.
We’re a tech company. Our clients are everywhere
Connectivity is important to us as a tech company. We have fibre broadband which allows us to stay connected with our learner base. With over 11,000 learners using our My Development Zone platform across the world, then the most important element to our business is our connectivity. We do not need to be in a big city for this. As long as we can communicate with our learners and each other, then we can continue to offer a high level of service and respond to development needs quickly.
We don’t need to rely on customers needing to walk through our doors to buy our products; therefore, we do not need to rely on physical footfall.
Blaenavon is also an excellent location for when we do need to go and see clients. Whilst we have no train links, we are only a 30-minute drive from Newport and there are times where I have been able to leave the office at 9.30am, hop on a train to London for a meeting and still be back at my desk before 5 pm. Birmingham, Bristol, the M4 Corridor, London, the South West, Cardiff & Swansea are all within easy reach and being in Blaenavon means we are equidistant between Cardiff and Bristol airports for when we do need to fly. In fact, it’s probably better for us than if we were based in Cardiff.
We have to work harder
This doesn’t sound like a benefit, but it is. Being outside of Cardiff and Swansea means that we don’t tend to fit into the profile of your typical Welsh ‘successful’ tech business. The media largely ignores us and that simply means we have to work harder and knock on more doors to ask for business, which suits us. I have a background in sales and know that to pick up new business, we have to get in front of people to really show them how game changing our e-Learning platform is. Getting in front of people helps us to build important relationships and our clients love our story: where we are from and what we are achieving.
We are building for the future
We have achieved our success organically and without outside investment. RWA has a very supportive board of Directors who are happy to reinvest profits to help us grow. We are building a long-term plan for the company and sustainability is key to that future.
Our approach to workplace learning with My Development Zone has the ability to facilitate real change in helping people develop their business and workplace skills. This means that we are working across sectors, such as businesses of different sizes, charities, schools and the public sector.
Working with schools is going to be an important element of the work that we do going forward. Providing young people with the skills, confidence and knowledge to understand the world of work and business is going to be a key factor that impacts the future of this country.
An important part of our long-term vision is to retain clients for longer, which means we can keep our costs low and focus on building meaningful relationships with our clients and networks that add real value.
Community is important to us
There is so much competition in cities that can distract a business from reaching their goals. In Blaenavon, there is a great sense of community and the people that live and work here are proud of their town and their heritage. We have excellent relationships with all of the businesses around us and we regularly share knowledge, experience and networks.
Our employees get involved with local charities, enterprise facilitation and volunteer work in a number of different areas. This benefits us, as those employees are constantly learning new skills which they can bring into the workplace. We are fortunate to have a good relationship with Torfaen Council who are very supportive of what we are trying to achieve.
We have plans to try and support more business start-ups and to grow the local economy by utilising the spaces that we have already developed and to make them more available to those who need support in growing their own businesses.
Would we have achieved the success we have had today if we had been based in Cardiff?
I don’t think so. We have a great team working in Blaenavon and the costs to run a business from the city would have impacted our ability to grow. As a tech company, what’s most important is that we have the right people, the right digital connectivity and that we can scale and develop at speed. The most important things when growing your business are that you believe in the strength of your ideas and your vision and that your people also buy into that and want to come on that journey with you. What’s exciting is that we are only really just getting started and we have a lot to achieve.
If you are a business that is looking to grow, then I would urge you to consider the Welsh Valleys as a place to base yourselves. Here you will find fantastic communities, a lot of support and great people who will have the skills you need to help you achieve your own goals.