The grit and innovation shown by North Wales businesses points the way to a bright future for an economy battered by the pandemic, Brexit and wild winter weather.
That’s the verdict of leading economist Dr Edward Jones, of Bangor University, who has seen reasons to be cheerful over the past 12 months in the resilience shown by people and businesses across the region.
That’s been backed by a multi-million-pound North Wales Growth Deal and a Hollywood-inspired Wrexham football renaissance – just two of the reasons to be cheerful in 2021.
Dr Jones, of the University’s Business School, said:
“The economic data might be saying it was a disastrous year but 2020 wasn’t all bad news for the North Wales economy and the region’s communities, businesses and entrepreneurs are laying the foundation for a bright future.”
He believes that social capital – the network of relationships across communities that support and strengthen societies – has received a boost across the region in the pandemic.
“The social distancing policies to curb the spread of covid-19 might have been expected to weaken social networks and damage social capital but in fact, the opposite has happened.
“People have maintained physical distance while pursuing social togetherness, through acts of kindness, and volunteering and charities have been active while in North Wales businesses have also played their part.
“Despite the challenges faced by the tourism sector, businesses such as Dylan’s restaurants delivered hot meals and lunch boxes to teams at Ysbyty Gwynedd and at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd.
“Harlech Foodservice supplied food banks when regular customers shut down while others in the sector, such as Catch22 and Blas Mwy Black Lion on Anglesey and The Sorbus Tree in the Vale of Clwyd quickly adapted to offering takeaways and changing their business practice, which kept businesses open and staff in jobs.
“Even during the worst of the pandemic Adventure Parc Snowdonia has continued with its investment in the Hilton Garden Inn hotel and Wave Garden Spa, which have a planned opening date of March.
“And as if things couldn't get more interesting for the sector, Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Rob McElhenney were given the go-ahead by the supporters to become the new owners of Wrexham AFC, North Wales’s most important football club.
“The Hollywood duo have a vision to turn the club into a football force and their investment has already put a global spotlight on Wrexham and the surrounding area with the owners-elect celebrating their takeover with a video message, seen around the world, that promoted club sponsors and Britain’s leading trailer manufacturer for over 60 years, Ifor Williams Trailers.
“The continued importance of North Wales as a manufacturing hub was highlighted when the CP Pharmaceuticals factory in Wrexham became key in the UK’s fight against covid-19.”
Dr Jones believes covid-19 forced many businesses in North Wales to rethink how they worked in response to lockdown rules and social distancing policies and many turned to digital tools to keep their business open and people employed.
“I have been surprised how many small local businesses have been able to really ramp up their online presence and keep people in employment because when we come out of this it’s important that there are foundations to build on.
“These are businesses that have fought tooth and nail to stay open. They’re doing whatever they can and it’s businesses like this that will be in a good position to survive and move forward.
“Moneypenny, based in Wrexham, has helped businesses across the region in adopting new ways of working and using new digital tools.
“In August last year they developed and launched a self-screening tool to help manage visitors and customers safety and this innovation has allowed businesses to remain efficient and open during the pandemic.
“Innovation in North Wales continued throughout 2020 despite covid-19. Cufflink, based at M-SParc, won cyber start-up at the 2020 Wales Start-Up Awards, while Flintshire civil engineering firm Hollingsworth developed a Health and Safety app which gained national recognition, reflecting the exciting ecosystem of innovation in the North.
“North Wales is also leading the charge with innovation to tackle climate change with the Welsh Government announcing funding for the initial development phase of a hydrogen hub at Holyhead.
“Hydrogen is a clean fuel that only produces water when used and is earmarked to play an important role in tackling climate change.
“This hub will be the first of its kind in Wales and ensures the region is at the forefront of this emerging technology.”
He also believes that new, ‘green’ technologies and the region’s traditional strengths, North East Wales’s powerful manufacturing sector, food and tourism, offer a way forward for the North.
“Other innovative projects, that will help tackle climate change and support and create jobs across the region, received a boost when the UK and Welsh Governments gave the green light to the ground-breaking North Wales Growth Deal.
“There will be 14 projects – covering low-carbon energy, innovation in high-value manufacturing, agri-food and tourism, digital connectivity and land and property – supported by the Growth Deal, each having a positive impact on North Wales economy and society.”
“Economic data would suggest that 2020 was a disastrous year for the North Wales economy but a deeper look also shows businesses innovating, people collaborating, investments being made, and daily acts of social kindness.
“There may be more challenges to come but, given the resilience and attitude of the region’s people and businesses throughout 2020, there are reasons to be optimistic about North Wales economy in the post-pandemic world.”
For more on Bangor University go to https://www.bangor.ac.uk/