Leeds: An entrepreneurial hotspot
Why an increasing number of entrepreneurs are flocking to the northern financial services hub
Acknowledged as the regional capital of the Yorkshire and Humber district, Leeds has successfully reinvented itself over the past two decades. While manufacturing still plays a significant role in the local economy, the city has successfully diversified. Today it plays host to the UK’s largest concentration of financial services companies outside London and is also an important centre for media, communications and professional services firms.
It’s also a city that has transformed itself through an ‘urban renaissance’, that has seen the area around the town centre remodelled by prestige residential, commercial and retail developments.
And as David Baggaley, marketing manager at Leeds Council’s Business and Enterprise unit explains, the city has been proactive in ensuring that the built environment matches the requirements of incoming companies. “Over the last few years there has been an awful lot of investment in the City,” he says. “One of our main roles is to ensure that we have the right kind of development. We want projects that provide a sense of place and that enhance the skyline of the city. What we are offering businesses is a city with vision and a chance to buy into that vision.”
4X Currency Corporation, a newly established company providing currency services to businesses has bought into that vision. “We are a cutting edge company using innovative software to provide a currency service,” says managing director Helen Scott. “We want to be seen as a modern company and the offices that we’ve got here – all glass and chrome – are in keeping with the image we want to project.”
4X has recently located its customer-facing business in Leeds, having developed the software that lies at the heart of its offering in Brighton. Scott says Leeds was a natural choice because it was the biggest centre for financial services outside the capital. “London was too big,” she says. “Leeds was right for us.”
Scott acknowledges that moving to an area where sector specific skills are available is advantageous but she says the main benefit for 4X lay in the attitude that the local authorities had towards financial services businesses. “We were made welcome and they’ve helped give us a profile, including coverage in the local media,” she says.
One by-product of rapid development is that local economies eventually reach a stage where a mix of full employment and demand for business premises pushes up costs. However, despite Leeds’ success in creating jobs, Baggaley says companies are still moving to the city to reduce their outgoings. “We are still benefitting from an inward investment climate that sees companies moving out of areas like London to reduce their cost base,” he says.
However, Baggaley stresses that in addition to reduced costs, Leeds offers access to customers. “Proximity to markets is crucial,” he says. “Leeds is situated right in the middle of the motorway network and close to an international airport. That makes us very attractive.” It’s an assessment that Helen Scott agrees with. “Leeds is in a good location. All the major cities are within striking distance,” she says.