Businesses are being challenged to play their part in Middlesbrough’s rebirth and become outspoken ambassadors for the town.
Mayor Dave Budd wants to build on the area’s proud entrepreneurial past by attracting more and more commerce. And he believes we can all do our bit to help.
“This town was at the forefront of the industrial revolution,” he says.
“That spirit’s still here. We have a high rate of SME start-ups and, crucially, a higher proportion of them tend to succeed.
“We’re in a great location. Visitors from all over the country can’t believe we’re ten minutes away from the seaside and ten minutes away from Roseberry Topping and the North York Moors.
“And then there’s the resilience, the ingenuity and the resourcefulness of the people. My granddaughter lives in London and likes coming to Middlesbrough because people smile and talk to you. We think that’s normal, but in some places it isn’t.
“However, we’re sometimes embarrassed to talk about the good things that are happening here and we have to start doing it more.
“Businesses need to talk the town up. They have to follow the example of Psyche’s Steve Cochrane – stick him in front of a camera and he says such positive things and means them.”
“The town branding work we’re doing is about giving someone the story to tell about the town,” adds Tony Parkinson. “We want everybody to talk about Middlesbrough in this way.
“We also need to be far bolder than we have been in claiming Middlesbrough’s place as the economic city heart of the Tees Valley city region.
“We’re not saying it’s any more important than anywhere else, but if professional services jobs are going to come to this area, the likelihood is that they’re going to come to Middlesbrough.
“The seven components of the Investment Prospectus interconnect to position Middlesbrough as the major economic entity between Newcastle and Leeds. It’s cheaper to be here than either of those cities but it’s just as easy to get to.”
The council also wants businesses to help it deliver the second major strand of its vision for the town – the social regeneration strategy it launched in September.
“We’re creating the opportunities, investors want to come here and that’s great,” says Parkinson. “Actually getting into communities and creating aspiration and improving life chances is far more difficult and we need help to do that.
“Business has a big part to play by providing apprenticeship opportunities for our more deprived youngsters and care leavers and jobs for the long-term unemployed.
“We need much stronger relationships with businesses to ensure people gain qualifications for the growth areas we’ve identified, such as professional services, manufacturing and the digital industries.
“We don’t want low paid, part-time jobs, we want to create well paid jobs that take people out of welfare and improve health, wellbeing and educational attainment.”
Both men praised social initiatives from business such as Marks & Spencer and Greggs and the work Middlesbrough Football Club Foundation is doing throughout the community.
And they say that if the strategy bears fruit and Middlesbrough becomes a wealthier place, everyone will benefit.
“Our council tax and business rates will continue to rise, which is vital to protect services,” says Parkinson. “We have to be self-sustaining because in five years’ time we won’t receive a penny from central government and will only spend the money we generate.
“We spend over £200m a year on services to make people’s lives better. We can also do that by improving the economy.
“Our message is that the council will do all it can to assist businesses to locate and stay here. Please help by talking the town up. Nobody’s going to invest in a town nobody loves or speaks highly of.”
While regeneration is very much a team game, there are some things that neither the two Boro-supporting council chiefs nor business leaders can influence, however much they would like to.
“Having Middlesbrough being back in the Premier League would also help massively with everything we’re trying to do,” smiles Budd.
Middlesbrough’s Investment Prospectus’ targets in numbers
Commercial and housing investment
Total supply chain jobs
Total land regenerated
1.7m sq ft
Business accommodation developed
Total direct jobs
Total new homes built