A hi-tech company’s move from Edgbaston to Birmingham Business Park is ahead of schedule, despite the restrictions of lock-down.
The British arm of Helsinki-based measurement technology and services specialist, Vaisala, had been based at the University of Birmingham (UoB), since it began life as a start-up in the mid-80s.
Vaisala – which was established in the 1930s – acquired the fledgling business in 1989, and it has since become the global company’s HQ for all its operations in the UK and the Republic of Ireland.
Weeks before the first signs of Covid-19 though, the business identified that it would need to move, and country MD, Geoff Hart, brought in Birmingham-based property agents KWB to identify a short-list of potential locations.
“We weren’t ‘unhappy’ there, but the working world had begun to change. We were moving to a model which incorporated more remote working, and wanted to have more flexibility within our space. Ideally, we’d have gone for a nearby location, but there was nothing suitable,” he recalls.
“Several options were discussed. Quinton Business Park would have done the trick, but didn’t quite have the right space. We were quite keen on Blythe Valley, but again they didn’t have the right availability, and we finally decided on Bishops Court, on Birmingham Business Park.
“We were impressed by the building and the park environment. It has good connectivity, for sure. We also liked how efficiently it is run. Inevitably, the first focus for all universities is their students rather than tenants, so we’re looking forward to having a strong and professional relationship with our new landlord.”
However, just as work got underway to fit the space out to Vaisala’s requirements, Covid-19 impacted the UK economy and it appeared the relocation plans would be thrown into chaos, as Adrian Southall, director of KWB Workplace explains.
“The contractor had just started, but stopped almost immediately following the government’s initial advice. Then, there were discussions about what were essential services, and which companies should be operating,” he says.
“Much of Vaisala’s work here is weather related road surface state forecasting for Highways England, when they should (or shouldn’t) be gritting road surfaces for instance.
“Their advice had previously proved both accurate and invaluable, so Vaisala was classified as a provider of critical infrastructure services. Achieving that status meant we could ask the contractor to return, agree safety protocols, overcome all the challenges – and to budget – so the space is now ready to occupy.
“Their change of status proved crucial, because of course they’d given formal notice to leave their previous space. Even Covid-19 doesn’t change lease law or other legal restrictions, and their ‘exit’ date from the UoB buildings still applied.”
Vaisala is now deciding on the new operational model for its 50+ UK-based employees, before they move into Bishops Court.
“We will rarely have more than 25 in the office on any one day,” says Geoff. “Some are field service engineers spread across the country, our sales managers work from home in their regions, and our help-desk operates on shifts, because it works 24/7.
“As we’re now ahead of our original timetable, despite the challenges of completing the move during lock-down, we have plenty of time to fine-tune the new model, which we’ll do during June, and we expect to be in the new space and fully operational from there right at the start of July.”