Birmingham: a ‘top 10’ UK location for creative and digital businesses

Ashley Hancox, CBRE’s Birmingham-based national team head of offices

A new report by property consultancy CBRE ranks Birmingham the 7th most attractive UK regional city for the creative industries sector.

According to the report, Manchester is currently the leading destination for publishing, film, TV, media, digital, computer programming and information services businesses.

Birmingham is clustered alongside cities including Reading, Edinburgh, Cambridge, Glasgow, Oxford and Bristol.

CBRE’s ‘Creative Regions’ report ranks 25 regional creative talent markets, benchmarking them against 15 different metrics, including educational attainment levels, labour costs, office space costs and concentration of creative employers.

Birmingham scored highly on a number of metrics.

Employment in the information and communications sector and the proportion of millennials (20-34 year olds) is growing faster in Birmingham than Manchester. The growth of SMEs in Birmingham – 5.9 per cent in the last five years – also dwarfs that of Manchester (1.1 per cent).

Birmingham currently has the third highest concentration of information and communications professionals– around 24,000 people work in the sector, compared to more than 27,000 in Reading and more than 45,000 in Manchester.

The city has the second highest number of information and communications SMEs – nearly 4,000 – with Manchester stealing the lead with more than 5,000.

A notable characteristic of creative talent markets is the number of millennials, as 20-34 year olds are the lifeblood of the sector. Birmingham trails just behind Manchester on this benchmark, both with a millennial population of around 550,000.

According to Ashley Hancox, CBRE’s Birmingham-based national team head of offices, a leading factor in Manchester’s success has been the relocation of the BBC to Salford’s MediaCityUK in 2011.

He said: “The BBC move to Salford has been a game-changer for Manchester, in much the same way that the mooted move of Channel 4 to Birmingham and Peaky Blinders’ creator Steven Knight’s proposed film studios could be.

“These would undoubtedly cement our reputation as a creative and digital hotspot and entice new talent to the city.

“Birmingham is quickly playing catch up with Britain’s third city – our fast-growing SME and millennial populations means we are hot on their heels.”

Birmingham already has a lot to offer the creative and digital sector. Well known digital clusters include the Birmingham Innovation Campus, where there are around 150 businesses. The Custard Factory, Fazeley Studios, Entrepreneurs for the Future (e4f) and Oxygen Accelerator are also home to businesses with a digital agenda.

Geographical concentrations are to be found in Digbeth and the Jewellery Quarter.

Local developers are also tailoring their offer to the creative market.

Ashley said: “The majority of creative and digital business are small in scale, so typically require smaller space. They also like to cluster in multi-occupancy technology and innovation hubs, the likes of which have sprung up in Birmingham in recent years.

“For staff, workspace expectations include collaborative and communal areas and a range of on-site amenities, including bicycle storage, showers and cafes.”

Legal and General has embraced the collaborative workplace strategy in The Lewis Building, incorporating a library, workbenches and a coffee bar. CEG have incorporated the ‘Alpha Works’ serviced/collaboration centre within Alpha Tower. Out-of-town, IM Properties’ Blythe Valley Business Park’s ‘Foodie Friday’ promotes networking and wellbeing among occupiers.

Ashley said: “The tech and creative economy is hugely important to the UK and the regions. Technology and creative industries in general are less affected by regulatory restrictions or fears over single market access.

“Large numbers of these companies are already based outside London and we expect this trend to continue. Cities such as Birmingham also have the critical mass of talent necessary to compete successfully in this sector. There are also many other tempting reasons to locate in the area including quality of life, access to a large talent pool, cost of living and proximity to London.”

Dr David Hardman, chief executive officer at Innovation Birmingham, said: “Cities are increasingly becoming the focal point for creativity. They say innovation is a contact sport: on that basis you need people coming together and cities enable that.

“The opportunity for Birmingham is huge, but we must create an environment where people want to live, work and play in the city, not just train and move on, not become part of the London commuter belt or a stopping off point but the place for them to build careers.”

Emma Jackson, associate director in CBRE Research, added: “As this sector continues to grow, the choice of office space and where to locate will be ever more critical to its sustainability and future growth. Through an in-depth understanding of the unique characteristics and potential of particular markets, which this new research offers, businesses will be better placed to make effective, cost efficient and informed property decisions that will greatly aid in the quest to attract and also crucially to retain the best talent to create competitive advantage”.