Norfolk Day business summit: Shaping the new narrative for our county to take to the world
PUBLISHED: 12:06 01 August 2018 | UPDATED: 12:21 02 August 2018
The clichés around Norfolk and its business community are well-worn.
But at a summit discussion hosted by EDP Business on the inaugural Norfolk Day, with the support of Lloyds Banking Group, six business leaders tore these perceptions down in favour of a new narrative.
Dismissing stereotypes of a sleepy and insular economy, the panellists painted an image of a dynamic business community with evolving creative and tech industries, and companies turning traditional industries such as agriculture, aviation and banking on their heads.
‘Getting our message out there’
The debate at the International Aviation Academy Norwich – a world-first for the aviation industry – covered business planning and expansion, skills and training, collaboration, and – perhaps most importantly – communication.
Marcus Hemsley, co-director of Fountain Partnership in Norwich, said it was time to “change the narrative”.
“Let’s not focus on the clichés and negatives in Norfolk, let’s focus on the future,” he said.
Nova Fairbank, public affairs manager at Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, said the positive messages should be shared through “new” channels – like social media and YouTube – to reach new audiences.
She said: “We are starting to have a more positive message. The big one is the collaboration, all the partnership work that is going on. If we shout together we have a louder voice, but we need to start innovating in how we get those messages across. We need to be using new methods of communication.”
Gareth Oakley, Lloyds Banking Group’s managing director of business banking, said events like the summit were “critical” in changing outside perceptions of Norfolk.
Change is coming
Birketts partner Jeanette Wheeler, who through her role on the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) board has insight into the Norfolk and Suffolk local economic strategy, said more was happening to make sure the counties promote themselves more effectively.
Businesses and partner organisations submitted their thoughts for the strategy.
She said: “The economic strategy is very ambitious and I think we can be pleased that everyone has fed into it.”
Mr Hemsley felt disruption would bring big changes.
“We have already disrupted the insurance industry,” he said. “We need to create that narrative among our own people that we are a community of disrupters, of innovators, people doing things differently.”
Simon Coward, managing director of Hethel Innovation, said Norfolk had already proven its skills for reinvention with developments like Scottow Enterprise Park, on the former RAF Coltishall site, now home to more than 120 businesses.
He said: “We have cutting-edge businesses in all sorts of places. It is a case of building on what we had and turning it into something new.”
Mr Oakley said the attraction and retention of staff will be “absolutely essential” as Norfolk’s business scene evolves.
“It is the Achilles’ heel, partly related to the lack of infrastructure and communication. If that can be improved you have the complete package,” he said.
Sir Chris Harper, Aviation Skills Partnership eastern regional board chairman, said: “I would like Norfolk to be known as the county with the greatest opportunity for the people who go through it. If they stay, then fantastic, we can continue to grow with the community spirit. If they leave and enhance the world economy that is great too.”
The panellists agreed that businesses had more to do to strengthen talent pipelines – primarily through better connections and exposure to schools and students.
Ms Wheeler said: “Necessity is the mother of invention and with all the challenges undoubtedly coming our way we know it is going to be a less easy stream of international talent that we as employers can dip into. In fact businesses are going to have to grow their own and inspire.”
The uncertainties of Brexit meant businesses should have to “challenge themselves” to support young people, said Mr Coward. “They are the entrepreneurs of tomorrow, we need to be helping them today to give them the skills to set up a business and make them think they can have that aspiration,” he said.
READ MORE: The lessons to take away from the Norfolk Day business summit
Watch the debate in full above.