On November 1 the day that Reading and Oxford topped the Demos-PwC Good Growth for Cities 2018 index for the third year running, followed by Southampton – highlighting a compelling growth story for the South East – the underlying question at the Reading UK Economic Forum was ‘How can Reading ensure it remains successful, particularly with Brexit challenges on the horizon?’
The key answers from a well-informed panel seemed to be:
- Keep calm and carry on
- Continue to attract and retain talent in Reading
- Publicise Reading’s attributes better and wider
- Be prepared to embrace change and leverage Reading’s advantages
- Deliver sooner more of the town’s Reading 2050 Vision – its Green Tech, Culture & Diversity, Rivers & Parks improvement proposals
Behind-the-scenes promotional work for the town was revealed by Adam Jacobs, chair of Reading UK. This included ongoing events and public realm enhancement set to be continued by a fresh supportive £2.5 million BID from January 2019, the upcoming Festival of Digital Disruption, and the inclusion of Reading on England’s Great West Way tourism route. Reading would also soon be staging its largest ever ‘Magical Christmas’ marketing campaign.
Reading UK board member and Peter Brett Associates partner Scott Witchalls noted the town’s continuing history of progressive diversity and evolution, helping to create its successful business economy, excellent transport and communication links, and attractive lifestyle. “And we’ve got technology in spades, but in ‘smart city’ terms it’s about how you use it.”
Based on the Huawei UK Smart Cities Index, Reading had “…come from nowhere to be Number 17. Effectively from playing non-league to having a Premier League team, recognised as a community using technology seriously.”
Verizon human resources director James Montgomery explained the attraction of Reading for his US company: “We arrived here because we wanted to be embedded with our customer base, and there are few better places to be. Reading has it all – access to the business segments that we service, great infrastructure with proximity to London and ease of travel to any part of Europe, the good road/rail network, education, university, Henley Business School, even real estate. And, all these things have improved beyond recognition over the past 20 years.”
Peter Hart, CEO Austin Fraser, agreed, noting that Reading’s UK location and ease of access to a very large skilled talent pool offered his company “the easiest place to harness and attract talent compared to our other international offices.”
Montgomery concurred, adding that the same could be said about Reading’s ‘supply chain’ of service providers and professional advisers.
With the unspoken challenges of Brexit in the minds of several seminar attendees, Mike Skelton, director of the Mayor’s Office of Richardson, Texas outlined the very real US opportunities for Reading as an international trading partner – not least because of the towns’ thriving modern economies and business sector similarities.