Grow Slow and Strong

Simon Nurse reports on some encouraging signs for the Welsh economy.

This week the South Wales Chamber of commerce has produced ‘a National Recovery Plan’ for Wales which it is presenting to the First Minister Carwyn Jones.   Under headings that include the ‘National Recovery for Enterprise and Trade’ and ‘National Recovery for Barriers to Growth’, the plan calls for a number of key actions:

  • Creating a Welsh Centre of Excellence for Entrepreneurship.
  • Continued help for SMEs and initiatives that ‘allow business to be more robust and take risks’.
  • A national infrastructure plan to co-ordinate and deliver transport improvements.
  • Long term manufacturing and export strategies that modernise industry, incorporates energy efficiency and facilitates overseas success.
  • Improvements to the public procurement process.
  • Simplifying and regulating the tax system.
  • Cancelling the forthcoming increase in National Insurance.
  • ·       Developing a skilled Welsh workforce.

All these present a challenge to the Welsh and on the taxation front, the UK Government. Few disagree that Welsh business – and industry in particular – has been exceptionally hard hit during the worst recession in recent history, with an uncertain future ahead. While the Welsh Government can help lay the groundwork on which to build a more amenable business landscape, businesses also have a responsibility to embrace change.

The world has slipped into a quiet but steady revolution. We are witnessing the dawn of the ‘innovation economy’, an environmental revolution motivated by the geographic shifting of markets, a reduction of raw material availability and the need to operate in a more sustainable manner. Ours is a shrinking world of exponential population growth and increasing environmental demands.

For a really good example of how Welsh innovation and – in this case, a touch of ecodesign, a dab of business altruism and a belief in what you do – can project a business well beyond Welsh borders and onto the global radar,  consider howies©, the Cardigan based sports wear company. This is a business that operates in an incredibly cluttered marketplace, with competitors including global entities such as Adidas, Ocean Pacific and Nike.

Favouring a philosophy of ‘Grow slow and grow strong’, the creative and management team behind howies© have continued to expand, innovate and impress, subsequently securing the financial backing of American giant Timberland. Impressed with the business model, they agreed to the huge concession that howies© would continue to be managed and based in Wales. This is the type of organisation that will be well set for 21st Century business, one that embraces change, takes the long view and aligns itself with a changing society.

To facilitate the journey to the new business landscape, Wales already has some of these elements in place. Consider the Eco Design Centre Wales. The Welsh Government supported the set up of the centre which works with imaginative businesses to promote effective industrial ecodesign. This small organisation operated from its Cathays home – adjacent to Cathays train station with onsite cycle parking for those interested in improving the efficacy of the road network – offers an example of the type of organisation that can truly help to embrace change and move organisations into a mid-21st Century mindset whilst the competition continue to languish in the late 20th. Similarly, the Cardiff University innovation network is an excellent example of drawing businesses to the table, offering free lectures and networking opportunities for vibrant organisations and individuals.

As a small country, Wales enjoys some advantages, in particular the close proximity and potential partnership of world class institutions to growing and open minded businesses. While the National Recovery Plan contains some sensible ideas, this will need to be partnered by strong action and behavioural change by businesses to accomplish the Chamber’s lofty ambitions.

Simon Nurse is Head of Operations with Cardiff’s Capital Coated Steel and editor of the Industrial Ecology and Sustainable Business website

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