From Amazon to GoCompare, why are businesses flocking to Wales?
Why the land of the red dragon is bagging business
What do Amazon, Rolls-Royce founder Charles Stewart Rolls, Catherine Zeta- Jones, Stephen Fry’s favourite gadget and Gio Compario have in common?
Well, they all have a strong Welsh connection in their name, fame and wealth. While we at LondonlovesBusiness.com tirelessly bang the London drum, we have heard from quite a few businesses in the capital who want to enter the land of the red dragon for setting up a second operation.
Wales is not as far as you think. Cardiff, the capital city is only two hours away from London and only a couple of hours drive from major cities like Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool.
Hayley Parsons, founder of Go Compare, the Newport-based insurance company famous for its TV adverts featuring fictitious opera singer Gio Compario, thinks that there’s no better place than Wales to start a business.
“I have lived and worked in Wales all my life and am very proud to be Welsh. I’ve always felt the key to creating a successful business is to employ the right people and we’ve found plenty of talented people here in Wales,” she says.
This might be news to you but there are businesses – big and small - moving to Wales to get their cash registers ringing, thanks to an HQ or a second operation in Wales.
Why? The Welsh Government has a big role to play.
It’s got an HQ in Westminster where officials help you get everything from financial support and employing talent, to identifying the right location for your business.
First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones describes the London HQ as “Wales’ gateway to the world”.
“Our London office provides us with the perfect base to promote Wales as a place to invest and do business. Our aim is to boost the Welsh economy by attracting high quality investment from international markets.
“As a nation we are open for business – Wales is an excellent place in which to locate and do business and is welcoming to companies. We have a strong record of attracting significant foreign investment and have become a hub in Europe for electronics, avionics, pharmaceuticals, high-value manufacturing, financial services and insurance.
“We support high performing, quality companies to invest in Wales and help us create jobs, employment and a sustainable Wales. Wales is small but flexible and can come up with innovative solutions to suit individual company needs – our Government is accessible.”
And that’s probably what got Amazon, world’s biggest internet retailer, to approach the Welsh Government in 2008 to set up a base in Swansea Bay.
Within 100 days, the Welsh Government offered a 30-acre site for a new 800,000 sq ft building in the outskirts of Swansea.
The Swansea distribution centre is the largest of Amazon’s plants in England and Wales and is big enough to hold 10 football pitches. It’s 60% bigger than Amazon’s huge distribution centre in Milton Keynes and employs over 1,200 local people.
But Amazon is definitely not alone in moving to Wales, other businesses see the potential too. Why?
First up, the easy access to finance.
Access to finance
If you are a foreign investor interested in locating to Wales, the Welsh Government can potentially support between 10% to 50% of eligible project costs, which can include capital equipment - subject to a suitable business plan and satisfactory project criteria assessment.
How digital agency Sequence is helping Doctor Who ‘save the universe’ based out of Wales
The Welsh Government has supported Sequence with funding for capital investment and for all-important skills development. The firm invested no less than £100,000 in training during 2010. Government support also helped with the cost of change management consultancy as the firm expanded. This kind of backing has given the firm that extra confidence as it takes on
bigger and bigger challenges and seeks to double in size again over the next few years, said Richard baker MD of Sequence.
Also, businesses can make use of the Welsh Enterprise Zones that offer specific incentives to attract new business to prime locations in Wales.
Take the example of Confused.com. When the price comparison goliath was penning its business plan, Wales’ offer to put investment on the table clinched the deal for the company.
Nicolas Weng Kan, CEO, Confused.com thinks that the “Government’s prompt actions” was the main impetus to base the company out of Cardiff.
“Back in 1992, we had five people writing the business plan and we were looking at different areas to invest in. The Welsh Government responded very promptly to our request,” says Kan.
“They even came to London to do a do presentation and were very proactive. The deciding factor was that they gave us some monetary help to set up a base in Cardiff and that’s what clinched the deal.”
The icing on the cake for growing businesses is that the Welsh Government has an in-house team of technical specialists who provide significant technical advice and financial backing to undertake research and product development. The Business Innovation programme has a range of tools to support all areas of R&D; from new materials, process improvement through to protecting your intellectual property and patents.
Export and trade
But it’s not just big companies that the Welsh Government has helped to get healthy balance sheets, small businesses have garnered chunks of cash too. These companies are in no mood to lie low even when the UK economy is not flying high.
The Welsh Government has an extensive programme of trade missions this year including USA, Germany, Hong Kong and Turkey - indeed First Minister Carwyn Jones has recently returned from leading a successful mission of Welsh companies to San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
The Welsh Government can also provide subsidised support to access trade consultants and in-market contractors to identify opportunities and potential overseas customers.
Take Yoke Shopper, a North Wales-based bags manufacturer that set up shop with the help of early funding from the Welsh Government. It’s now counted as one of Stephen Fry’s favourite gadgets.
Now counting the US, South Korea, and Australia among 28 other countries as customers, the company exports from its HQ in North Wales.
“We met Welsh Government representatives at the British Inventor’s Show and approached them with the concept and idea. After a Dragons’ Den-like interview, we got taken on. They helped us to source local Welsh designers and patent specialist and helped us set up the business,” says Matt Davies, founder of the company.
Another good example is Ammanford-based company Pullmaflex that has been able to make luxury seating systems for Porsche and Ferrari. How? By using £200,000 in grant aid from the Welsh Government.
If the small companies are clinching deals in China and India, big established businesses like CreditSafe too have been able to penetrate international borders.
David Knowles, marketing director, CreditSafe, says setting up two bases in Cardiff and Caerphilly is “the best decision they’ve ever made”.
“We’re now in France, Ireland, Germany and so many other countries. We wouldn’t have been able to expand if it wasn’t for our decision to relocate to Wales.”
IT and Telecommunications
From attracting UK’s biggest dotcom Admiral Group to funding start-ups, the Welsh Government has thrown its weight behind information and communication technology companies.
That’s probably why Wales has been able to attract over £17.7bn of capital investment since 1983 generating 286,603 jobs on the way.
Take mobile payment company Monitise for example, when it was looking to open a research and development centre in the UK, it chose South Wales.
Monitise chief operations officer Mike Keyworth says opening a centre in Wales was a “key catalyst in its growth”
“Local universities like University of Glamorgan’s Centre of Excellence in Mobile Applications and Services train students to become nifty developers which you wouldn’t find elsewhere in the UK. So, having an R&D centre here makes us a key player in the mobile banking world.”
Back in 2012, Swansea-based translation company Wolfestone Translation got a Government funding helping it to create over 15 jobs. Result? It’s now listed under the 50 fast growing companies in Wales on track to turn over £2m this year.
“The funding helped us to train employees in using new technology which helped us to make BBC, Coca Cola and other big corporates as clients,” says Roy Allkin, co-founder of the company.
You’ve seen them during rugby matches, the Welsh are a passionate pack. Driven, diligent and committed are synonyms you’d associate with them.
That’s probably why employers find hiring and retaining staff in Wales is easy.
This is what drove Tribold, a software SME founded in London to choose Wales over South Africa, Eastern Europe and Northern Ireland to set up a second base.
Simon Muderack, CEO and co-founder of Tribold says that the company’s offshore operation in India wasn’t viable and the high level of attrition didn’t help either.
“We met up with Welsh Government’s London HQ who helped us explore the access to talent we could have if we had an operation in Wales. We were very impressed with the quality of staff and found attrition and salary costs much lower in Wales.
“The cost per head is half compared to other cities in the UK, the attrition is a third and the people are fantastic, it’s one of the best business decisions we’ve made,” adds Muderack.
Recruitment remains a key impetus why the trend of relocating to Wales is hotting up.
Joel Armitt, director - Cardiff and Swansea at Hays Specialist Recruitment, thinks it’s the proximity to London and the ability to have a work life balance that proves to be a win-win for both employers and employees.
“The IT and finance sector are the key sectors with lots of vacancies. I’ve done 13-14 inward investment meetings in the past few months. London-based companies are looking at Cardiff, Swansea and other regions to relocate their entire head office or their front office.”
But what’s in there for employees? Why will they consider moving?
“There are so many reasons for people to come here. I stay in Pencoyed, my travel to work is 20 minutes. I can be on a beach within half an hour from my house. I see my kids to bed every evening which wasn’t the case in when I was working in other cities, and I have worked in many.
“All the boxes of a good life are ticked in Wales,” he sums up.
For more information contact Lynsey Thompson, Business Development Manager at the Welsh Government’s London Office on
Tel: +44 (0) 7795 227086
25, Victoria Street
London. SW1H 0EX