In this week's exclusive column, Ben explores the resilient nature of Pembrokeshire businesses in the face of past, present and future challenges.
What one thing would you want Pembrokeshire to be known for in the future? That’s a question I asked the panel at the recent Brexit summit held at Pembrokeshire College hosted by the Pembrokeshire Business Panel.
The event looked at the issues posed by Brexit and Pembrokeshire’s response to it and in common with all conversations and debates around Brexit, it was difficult to cut through the challenges posed by the current uncertainty to look at what opportunities there might be or how the County and its businesses will need to adapt.
Brexit or not, Pembrokeshire has long faced some big challenges posed by changes in the world around it. The end of the Cold War meant the closing of a number of military facilities around the County and the withdrawal of the investment and the skills that came with that. The changing fortunes of oil and gas have meant that investment in that sector, particularly in the facilities in the Haven has seen peaks and troughs and have sometimes seemed uncertain. Foot and Mouth too made a big dent in the agriculture and tourism – sectors on which the County is so dependent.
However, there are so many reasons to be positive. During the event, we heard about the dynamism of engineering businesses within the county such as Jenkins & Davies – a hugely successful business based in Pembroke Dock and employing 300 high-skilled roles across the UK. Company CEO Martin Kiss explained how he saw the technical skills within the workforce of the county as among the best anywhere in the UK.
Pembrokeshire’s outstanding tourism offering is unrivalled and at the event, Chair of Wales Tourism Alliance, Andrew Campbell outlined some of the opportunities for developing that offering. By creating a 365 day-a-year proposition, he said, this would not only generate more sustainable revenues for tourism businesses and generate better awareness of the County but crucially, also create more sustainable employment and make tourism a career of choice for younger people.
We all know of the challenges facing our high streets in the County (and indeed across the rest of Wales). However, whether Haverfordwest, Fishguard, Pembroke or Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire has towns with outstanding character and great historical and maritime assets. As well as this, there is a real opportunity through collaboration and creative thinking to re-imagine our town centres and develop them not just as shopping destinations but centres for enterprise more generally with high streets incorporating shops and non-retail businesses together and bringing footfall back into town centres. FSB Wales is at the forefront of developing new and exciting ideas around this and we look forward to working with Pembrokeshire County Council on their own plans.
So yes, Brexit presents the challenge of uncertainty for the County but there is much to build on and lots of opportunity whatever that level of uncertainty. Pembrokeshire is a small business economy and small businesses are, by their nature responsive and resilient and our greatest economic asset.
As anyone who knows me will attest- I’m very proud of having grown up in Pembrokeshire (some of my colleagues might even tell you I’m a ‘Pembrokeshire bore’) but it’s that belonging and identity that so many in the County and from the County feel that we can use to our advantage. If nothing else, challenges like Brexit should force us to create new partnerships and collaboration to outline an economy vision for Pembrokeshire.
So, what’s my own answer to the question I posed to the Panel is that Pembrokeshire? Well, quite simply it’s that Pembrokeshire is seen as the best place to set up and successfully operate a business in Wales. I think that with the right partnerships, we can make that happen.
More About Ben Cottam
Ben joined FSB three years ago from accountancy body ACCA where he served as Head of ACCA Cymru. Prior to that, Ben was Policy Manager at FSB Wales and early in his career, he also worked at the National Assembly having graduated from Cardiff School of Journalism.
Ben represents FSB on a number of boards and committees and is also a member of the Business Wales Strategic Board. As well as working on business issues, Ben is a member of Cardiff & Vale College’s Career Ready Local Advisory Board for a number of years and is a school governor.
The son of a farm manager, Ben was born and brought up in Pembrokeshire and is passionate about developing the County.