One of the region’s leading commercial property agents is warning that the lack of suitable office space in Newport for digital and tech companies will cause the local economy to miss out on the rapid growth of an industry predicted to employ in excess of 750,000 digitally skilled workers in the UK by 2017.
Dan Smith, managing director of Newport based M4 Property Consultants was one of the 2,000 estimated people that attended Digital 2016 at the Celtic Manor last week. The event showcased the rapid growth and diversity of an industry that already employs 28,308 in South Wales. Whilst Dan thought it was good to see both Newport Council and the Welsh Assembly Government at the event, encouraging better use of digital technology in Newport and further employment within the sector, he is concerned that Newport is not making a strong enough case to encourage, attract and retain companies from the sector within Newport.
“Newport has taken some important strides to becoming a great place to set up, grow or relocate a technology based company. With the Alacrity Foundation established and running for a few years, The National Software Academy (by Cardiff University) already up and running and The Cyber Academy (by University of South Wales) recently launched, Newport will, over coming years, be providing significant numbers of graduates, qualified and ready for work in this sector. Having all three of these institutions in Newport is fantastic. But it’s not enough on it’s own.
Some of these graduates may wish to set up their own business and we need to ensure that as many as possible do this in Newport. Undoubtedly, the availability of work ready graduates will also get the attention of existing businesses (both small and large), struggling to find suitably qualified staff. In both these scenarios, these business will be seeking space to occupy. Unfortunately, my concern is that Newport does not provide suitable office accommodation for these types of businesses at the current time.
Largely, in this industry the space most coveted is a little quirky, often industrial in it’s nature. It’s got great public transport links and access to cafés, bars and restaurants. Most importantly, these type of business like to cluster together and create a community. Places like Shoreditch in London are a great example of this.
In order to benefit from the predicted huge growth in this sector, Newport must ensure that it doesn’t just produce graduates that are work ready for the industry, but retains them in Newport so that Newport and not Cardiff, Bristol or London benefit from the jobs and wealth that they can create. To do this, both the public and the private sector must ensure a suitable supply of office space is available for small, medium and large companies that may wish to locate here. Failure to do so, will result in Newport missing out on a great opportunity.