Manchester - Leading from the front
Innovation is at the heart of Manchester and forms the basis of the city’s widely acclaimed status. A fact proven in 2010 when two university researchers, Professors Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov, were granted knighthoods and received the Nobel Prize in Physics for isolating graphene for the first time ever – and creating what has been dubbed the “material of the future” in the process.
Following a £61 million investment, the National Graphene Institute later opened its doors on the University campus to further research and keep the UK right at the heart of the commercialisation of this wonder material.
This may have been a world first for Manchester, but innovation is not. Once the world’s leading industrial city, we built the first passenger railway back in 1830, invented the computer and have made some pretty big contributions to atomic and thermodynamic theory. And this continues today: the Manchester Science Park is teeming with pioneers, and the City has welcomed a string of exciting new tenants of late, from Amazon and Google to Distrelec and GCHQ. We have big ambitions to be a top-five digital city along with the likes of Stockholm and Berlin - and with Manchester topping the poll in CBRE’s recent Creative Regions report for the calibre of our businesses, talent pool and technological strengths, there’s no reason why we can’t realise these.
The last two decades have been game changing. Our business district has mushroomed, with new developments springing up across every compass point of the City. Spinningfields injected a sense of pride and grace into our foundations, giving us an international cachet that elevated Manchester into the biggest powerhouse beyond London for finance, professional services and law.
Much of Manchester’s turning tide can be attributed to strong leadership. In his 19-year tenure as Chief Executive of Manchester City Council, Howard Bernstein’s business-like approach drove tangible results. Working closely with Richard Leese, Bernstein put Manchester and the issues that had once impeded our growth onto the national agenda. And this continues today: Metro Mayor Andy Burnham has ignited a national campaign to reduce homelessness – which will only strengthen the delivery of the pledges that secured his leadership.
Burnham has also promised to free up more housing; making use of city brownfields, opening doors for lower-income home seekers and regulating our landlords. And he’s committed to build on the proven success of our tram network and secure the infrastructure Manchester needs to facilitate its growth. Add to this the regeneration plans that pre-dated Burnham’s reign, such as Piccadilly Place, Angel Meadow, Victoria Station and HS2, and this is a very exciting place to be indeed.
Our Cities lists governance, along with culture and innovation, as key drivers for urban success. As a city, Manchester has never been afraid to take the lead, and our peers can learn a lot from our leaders’ synergy and focus. Devolution has served us well, enabling a mutually-beneficial alignment with the private sector.
Our hunger to progress has driven an on-going investment in the future of the City. Manchester University has long been a forbearer of change and a catalyst of growth; and this is particularly evident in the extensive development that’s coming to life on the North Campus. Further connecting the University with the city centre, the scheme will create thousands of jobs, enhance our technological, learning and research capabilities and further cement Manchester’s appeal for the global business community. It is little wonder why the city has the highest graduate retention rate outside of London, with an estimated 70% of the 100,000 strong student population choosing to stay on here after graduation.
And it’s the foundations that run deeper than our city’s burgeoning skyline that will secure our success – even in spite of Brexit. Our propensity to innovate has resulted in a far-reaching business acumen that spans pharma, R&D, technology and digitisation. Our very DNA is unique: living here is affordable, our diversity fuels our creativity and our people have a continued thirst to get the best out of our city. This is why Manchester makes commercial sense for international businesses – and it is this that will help us weather the geopolitical challenges that lie ahead.
Manchester’s international appeal stems as far back as its days as the ‘Cottonopolis’ of the Industrial Revolution. There’s a reason why George Orwell coined this northern gem the “guts and belly of the nation”; and why Dame Nancy Rothwell was so bold as to say that this is where “the world’s most valuable ideas will be transformed into reality.” I have every confidence that ‘Brand Manchester’ will continue to be as globally renowned as the big names we’ve welcomed into the City of late - and it will certainly outlive all of these in the future.