Why Exeter is a UK leader in employment and productivity growth
Published: 4 February 2020
One of the UK’s leaders in employment and productivity growth, cultural spending and green initiatives, Exeter tops the table for qualifications and boasts the second lowest unemployment out of 320 cities across Europe, according to Business Leader Magazine.
In a question and answer interview with the magazine, Council Leader Phil Bialyk explains what is driving Exeter’s success.
How would you assess Exeter as a place to do business?
Cllr Bialyk: “We’re a very good place to do business and we, as local authority, have a lot of contact with businesses and stakeholders.
“Our attitude is that the answer is yes – now what’s the question? We try to look for reasons to do something. That contributes to a very successful city here in Exeter.”
What are the city’s strengths and weaknesses?
Cllr Bialyk: “It’s not just about producing an industrial estate with a building in it for businesses. Workers want leisure, they want a decent environment, and Exeter has great coastline, great moors, and so it’s about trying to give the people who work in these businesses the right quality of life.
“Businesses want to retain their staff, and wages are very important to retaining staff, of course they are, but quality of life for people with families is important too, so we’re tying to give that all-round package.
“We are reaching out to people to come and look at us, come and invest and work with us, you’ll love what we’re doing.”
“We are a young city. Digital jobs are coming forward – there are more digital jobs in Exeter than in the rest of the South West – and data is an area we are working on. We’re bringing forward developments all the time and working with business.
“One of the key anchors is the university. Very successful. We’ve got Exeter College, which is one of the best colleges in the country and expanding. We’ve also got the Met Office, which brings a lot of skills.
“The South West has a lot more going on than just Doc Martin on ITV – we are a place where you can live a good life, but also do good business.”
What are the main challenges and opportunities of evolving Exeter?
Cllr Bialyk: “All of the development brings a problem – traffic. We are an ancient historic city, which we are very proud of, but that means we do not have big dual carriageways as boulevards through the middle. That is a challenge.
“Another of our issues is to retain graduates. Once they leave university they see the bright lights of some of the metropolitan areas, but there’s a lot of business here – we want to be an international centre for digital and climate change, keeping those students in Exeter. That creates the sort of environment where businesses want to relocate.”
What future developments are planned and how will they impact the area?
Cllr Bialyk: “We’re hoping to get away a £300m-plus investment to redevelop next to the new bus station and leisure centre we are building to revitalise our city centre. We want community spaces, work spaces and retail, to redefine our centre to make it a destination centre people want to come to.
“I’ve set up a steering group to bring forward a vision for the next 20 years to develop 12,000 homes in Exeter on eight strategic sites. A new way of urban living – climate-ready, sustainable, proper transport, car-free areas.
“In five years, I would hope we would be well on the way to reshaping our city centre to make it a destination.
"Hopefully we would have a new entertainment venue, be on the way to our project for 12,000 new homes, we’d be moving to a more inclusive society, and transport links would be better, so people’s first choice would be a bus or a train. It’s a big challenge for us, but we are enthused by it.”