A city whose industrial foundations were built on coal and lace, but which is now excelling in creative, tech, knowledge and life sciences, Nottingham is currently undergoing a £2bn facelift to boost its long-term prosperity.
In the latest in our series of city spotlight features, Business Leader asks: what is driving the Nottingham rebirth?
What’s unique about Nottingham as a place to do business?
Robert Dixon, Interim Chief Executive at Marketing Nottingham, said: “Nottingham is the largest economic area in the East Midlands. It is the home of amazing business such as Boots, Experian, Paul Smith and Games Workshop. It has two great universities, some of the best public transport in the UK and a positive, business-friendly environment – with support for start-ups, scale-ups and businesses that are growing.”
Stuart Marriot, Associate Director, Careers and Employability Service at The University of Nottingham, said: “Nottingham has a strong business ecosystem with two fantastic universities, a great public transport system and a £2bn investment programme underway.
“Home to major brands like Experian, Boots, Speedo and Capital One, there is a new generation of creative and entrepreneurial businesses creating a thriving city for business growth, particularly in the fintech and life science sectors.”
Irina Richardson, Regional Director of Global Woman Club Nottingham and owner of Balanced Academy, said: “Nottingham is very diverse and vibrant city. There are many reasons why major brands have chosen Nottingham as their base. The varied nature of industries and businesses mark Nottingham as a major centre for business growth.
“What I love about Nottingham is its great surrounding area with easily accessible villages. It allows families to have country-style living while still working and commuting to Nottingham. It’s great for mums, like me, to have a peace of mind that kids will have great education, thanks to many ‘outstanding’ schools in the area, as well as plenty of open spaces and fresh air to benefit from.”
Lorraine Baggs, Head of Inward Investment at Invest in Nottingham, said: “Nottingham is the biggest business centre in the East Midlands and is currently undergoing one of the largest transformation programmes of any UK city in this decade. The Southside regeneration (worth well over £2bn) will bring new leisure and retail, a college and central library, improved public transport, grade A office space, homes and redesigned public spaces.
“Nottingham is famed for its connectivity, frequently winning awards in this area. Its compact and walkable city centre, pioneering approach to city centre parking and award-winning, clean and green public transport system enables rapid access and congestion-free movement, making it an ideal business hub.
“Nottingham has a highly collaborative culture where big businesses nurture start-ups and support their growth.
“The city also has two world-class, award-winning universities, which have a high level of collaboration and engagement with local businesses, including collaborative research, sponsored research, student placements, graduate recruitment and executive education. The city offers competitively low operational costs for businesses and affordable house prices and higher disposable income for employees, meaning people can afford to experience more of the wonderful leisure, culture, retail and nightlife the city has to offer.
“It’s also a friendly and welcoming city in which to do business. It was recently named the UK’s friendliest city and was recognised for business friendliness in the FDI European Cities and Regions of the Future 2018/19 and 2020/21 reports.”
What are the city’s strengths?
Marriot: “Business can access two huge pools (65,000+) of talent from the University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University. 60% of the jobs in Nottingham are in knowledge-intensive industries, well above the UK average.
“The universities also engage with businesses to deliver training and executive education, to provide access to world-leading research and expertise and access to facilities and equipment, including the University of Nottingham Innovation Park, which is home to more than 80 businesses employing more than 900 people.”
Dixon: “Our central location means 80% of the UK population is within two hours of the city. Our two universities (both gold-star-rated for teaching excellence – the only city with that accolade), have about 70,000 students who are a key part of the economy and a talent pool for businesses.
“Public transport in Nottingham is second to none. The best bus network in the UK (officially) and a modern efficient and popular tram system that larger cities look at enviously. As a compact city, it is easy to get in and out, and then walk around.
“We have strong business networks that support start-ups, entrepreneurs, scale-up and larger businesses. There are over 30 flexible and incubator workspaces across the city, and support programmes and funding projects to help businesses grow. Some of our ‘smaller businesses’ such as Retail Assist, Unidays, TDX, Sygnature Discovery, 200 Degrees, Little Fish now employ hundreds of employees each, and only started in businesses in the last 10 years or so.”
Richardson: “Nottingham has a mixture of great entrepreneurial spirit and large corporate businesses. Thanks to growing number of business networks, offering local support, it’s becoming easier to start and run your own business in the area. We at Global Woman Club in Nottingham, for example, are focusing on empowering women locally and connecting them globally.
“Businesses in Nottingham benefit from direct access to a high-quality workforce thanks to two internationally-renowned universities, as well as the city having one of the youngest populations of any UK city. 29.7% of the population are aged 18 to 29 – full-time university students comprise about one in eight of the population.
“Thanks to a great transport network, it is one of the cleanest, greenest and least car-dependent cities in the UK.”
Baggs: “Nottingham is a connected city in the heart of the UK, and just 14 miles from East Midlands Airport, helping businesses to capitalise on the opportunities in both UK and global markets.
“It has a high-quality workforce, with two universities providing the talent, skills and innovation needed to grow a business, and over 1.1 million people within its recruitment catchment. Nottingham has award-winning, clean and green public transport, with the world’s biggest fleet of biogas buses and the UK’s most-used-per-head tram network.
“Significant investment into transport infrastructure over the past few years means staff can access their place of work with ease. Nottingham is a city that lends itself to growth – as the biggest business centre in the East Midlands offering competitively low operational costs, it’s no surprise that it was recently named top city for small business growth.”
And what are Nottingham’s weaknesses?
Baggs: “Nottingham has traditionally suffered from a lack of grade A office space, and in recent years, as the city has become an increasingly attractive destination for businesses to set up and expand, it has struggled to keep pace with demand. Thankfully, many of the developments either in progress or in planning are set to provide a wealth of new office space to address this issue.
“The city has also struggled with graduate retention, likely attributable to the high number of students originating from London who return there after graduating.
“There are a number of campaigns and projects in place to rectify this, such as the Graduate Retention Partnership established between Nottingham Trent University, the University of Nottingham, Nottinghamshire County Council and Nottingham City Council which aims to ‘secure commitment’ from Nottinghamshire employers to ‘create additional graduate level employment opportunities’ going forward.”
Dixon: “We could do with faster trains to London (electrified line and HS2 – not just faster to London but to Birmingham in 30 minutes and Leeds in 30 minutes). We could do with more investment from government – we are often overlooked as London/Westminster looks to Andy Street in Birmingham or Andy Burnham in Manchester.”
Richardson: “One of the weaknesses is the almost-two-hour journey from Nottingham to London. We are awaiting HS2 construction to speed up the time it takes to get to London and Europe.
“On the plus side we already have East Midlands Airport on the doorstep, which has also got Cargo Airport acting as a UK hub for DHL and UPS, and supporting operations for TNT and Royal Mail.
“Unfortunately, despite many affluent areas in and around Nottingham, there are still 34.2% of children and 25.8% of people aged 60 and over affected by income deprivation.”
Which sectors are traditionally strong in Nottingham – and how has that changed in more recent years?
Baggs: “Nottingham has a rich history when it comes to industry and invention. Much of the area’s early wealth was based on coal, and it was also the UK’s centre for the production of lace, evidence of which can be seen today in the redbrick Victorian warehouses in its Lace Market area. Nottingham was also known for its Raleigh bicycles and John Players cigarettes.”
Dixon: “Nottingham used to be coal, lace, bicycles and cigarettes. That’s now pretty much all gone and over 95% of Nottingham is now service-based.
“More people now work at the old Raleigh Factory which is now the Jubilee Campus of the University of Nottingham – high value, knowledge-intensive jobs.”
Baggs: “Today Nottingham is experiencing rapid growth in its knowledge-intensive industries. It has a great reputation for innovation-led high-growth sectors such as fintech and bioscience, and is home to the UK’s largest bioscience incubator, Biocity.
“It has a reputation as a great destination for tech businesses, with Capital One, Experian and Ikano based in the region. Nottingham was also recognised as one of the top 10 Tech Cities outside of London in the CBRE’s Tech Cities report in 2019. It’s also a creative city, and businesses and students have access to specialist world class hubs at Confetti dedicated to digital media, film, TV, music and events.”
Marriot: “Nottingham is traditionally strong in sectors including financial and business services, life sciences, creative and digital and advanced manufacturing. There is an increasing number of organisations with digital expertise – from marketing and social media enterprises through to global businesses that deal with huge volumes of data.
“Nottingham City Council, University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University have joined together to launch Nottingham Tech 1000 to enhance digital skills across the region. The programme aims to ensure attractive opportunities are available to school leavers, graduates, those already in the region and those looking to locate here.”
Dixon: “Growth sectors are education, creative, digital, life sciences, cleantech, professional services and visitor economy. Retail remains a large part of the economy, but it relies on a strong business base to thrive. On education, the two universities alone are about 15% of the economy.
“In life sciences, we have a strong primary health and beauty sector but also a strong medical technologies and medical devices sector. Bio City is the most successful life science incubator in Europe and the city is home to several clinical trials management companies in medtech. In the future, it is expected that cleantech and fintech in particular will grow; clean tech as the city has some innovative projects in low carbon sector (housing, energy and transport), and fintech, based on some of the recent spin-out companies that are growing fast.”
Richardson: “Nottingham leads the way in a number of industries, including financial and business services, creative and digital, life sciences and advanced manufacturing, low carbon, and construction.
“Personally, I see future growth in independent healthy life choices areas, like coaching, mentoring, health, exercise, women and children empowerment.
“The significance of climate change and the low carbon economy is likely to present future growth, either through the development and provision of low carbon goods and services, including low carbon housing and retrofit, or through savings in areas such as energy or waste reduction, providing a market for local low carbon economy businesses.”
What are the main challenges and opportunities of evolving Nottingham from an economic perspective?
Marriot: “Relatively high incidences of skills shortages and gaps affecting many industries but particularly manufacturing, engineering and other technical disciplines. Graduate retention is a challenge that contributes to this broad issue. Higher education institutions, business and local authorities can do more to support this.”
Richardson: “Almost nine out of 10 jobs in Nottingham are in the service sector. Perhaps a more diverse economy would give more beneficial opportunities for varied interests of a younger generation to stay in the area.”
Dixon: “Our educational attainment is still behind the national average for five to 18-year-olds (despite having two great universities). And, as with many other large cities, there is visible homelessness/rough sleeping/antisocial behaviour.
“Opportunities? Southern Gateway which includes Broadmarsh shopping centre, new library, renovated Castle, new Nottingham College, 4,000 jobs at the HMRC new site at Unity Square – a major opportunity to get more people into the city centre.”
Baggs: “It is imperative the city keeps pace with the ever-increasing demand for grade A office space as this high demand is predicted to drive up rents by £5 per sq ft over the coming years. A wealth of new developments across the city will help the city to welcome start-ups and enable businesses to expand here. The city’s flexible workspace occupation is also estimated to be around 90% according to the GKRE Flexible Workspace Market report, and this sector will also play an important role here as more and more businesses turn to this as a viable solution.
“Nottingham is also focusing heavily on the quality of life it offers. Investment in public transport, green spaces, culture and leisure – and ensuring it promotes these at a national level via campaigns such as Invest in Nottingham’s Quality of Life campaign, which is building momentum – will all help to attract businesses and talent to the area and contribute to the long-term prosperity of Nottingham.”
What does the future hold for Nottingham?
Marriot: “Nottingham is undergoing significant economic regeneration. A redevelopment of part of the city, worth £2bn, will change the southern gateway to the city and provide new commercial, retail and tourism facilities.
“There has also been investment into infrastructure. Nottingham has one of the UK’s best public transport networks with a commitment to green travel and sustainability. Nottingham also stands to benefit from HS2, with plans for an East Midlands Hub in Toton on the outskirts of the city.”
Richardson: “There are projects on the way to dramatically transform and regenerate the Broadmarsh shopping area of the city centre to boost the local economy, create jobs and attract more visitors. Works are underway to transform the area with improved shopping, leisure and restaurant facilities in a vibrant new environment.
“A lot of new housing developments are on the way within a half an hour commute to city centre, which makes Nottingham even more attractive for work placement relocations.”
Baggs: “The ambitious £2bn Southside programme will dramatically transform the southern face of Nottingham. The regeneration of this unique 0.5-square-mile area is set to boost the city into the top six UK retail centres, strengthen the local economy, create thousands of jobs and attract more visitors. Plots of previously underused, derelict and brownfield land are set to be filled with a variety of ambitious, impressive and inspiring developments.
“These developments, which are either under construction or in the pipeline – including the 40-acre Island Quarter – will comprise well over two million square feet of office space, accommodation units, creative trade floorspace, hotel and retail space, while entire new neighbourhoods (such as the sustainable 27-hectare Waterside development) are also in planning.
“Nottingham’s Southside is rapidly gathering pace and taking shape, with an unprecedented number of cranes in the sky and fresh announcements from investors and developers now almost a daily occurrence. This regeneration is stimulating investor interest and confidence in the city like never before.
“All of the developments are set to transform not just the physical landscape of the city and create construction jobs in the short-term, but will also boost Nottingham’s prosperity in years to come. The development of the Broadmarsh area alone is expected to boost the local economy by more than £1bn over a decade, elevate the city into the top six UK retail centres, create nearly 3,000 jobs and attract an extra three million visitors a year The shiny new retail scheme will act as a physical and a metaphorical shop window: showcasing parts of Nottingham’s high quality of life to potential residents and investors.”
Dixon: “Apart from Southern Gateway, which is live now, other major developments in the city centre, such as round Sneinton Market, and then down towards Island Site, have the potential to impact the city significantly.
“Also, on the edges of the city or just outside, HS2 at Toton, The Ratcliffe on Soar redevelopment site, the expansion at East Midlands Airport, the distribution centre at Roxhill near the airport, the developments round the Gedling Access Road and the extension of Clifton at Fairham pastures are all major developments showing the strength of the economy and the aspirations for growth.”