The UK city of Birmingham can boast a number of curious-looking claims. It is widely acknowledged to be the birthplace of heavy metal music and includes rock star Ozzy Osbourne among its most famous sons. More recently, it has been described as the balti capital of the world. However, Birmingham is now attempting to achieve global fame and recognition as an investment location.

This task is not easy, however, as the city has to fight with its negative image as a post-industrial ghost town. For many years, this image was well deserved, says Paul Kehoe, CEO of Birmingham Airport. “I remember visiting a friend in Birmingham in the late 1970s. This place was a dump. But now things are changing rapidly. It is a great place to live and do business.”


These common misconceptions are something that the city is working to overcome. Mike Whitby, leader of the Birmingham City Council, says: “There are still many unfavourable preconceptions about our city. But they come from people who have not been here recently to see all the ambitious projects we are undertaking.”

Ambitious plans

Regardless of such image problems, one thing Birmingham cannot be criticised for is its lack of aspiration. In 2010, the city's leaders launched the Big City Plan – a 20-year development project aimed at revitalising more than eight square kilometres of land in the city centre, which was predicted to bring an estimated £2.1bn ($3.35bn) into the local economy on an annual basis.

Authorities have also created an enterprise zone, which provides financial incentives and decreases the amount of red tape businesses have to contend with when establishing operations in the city. Moreover, Birmingham is investing heavily in road, air, rail and IT infrastructure and has pledged a 60% cut in carbon dioxide emissions by 2026.

But, even with so many new developments, Birmingham still has to compete with the UK's capital, London. “Our airport has much bigger capabilities than [are] currently [being] used. Yet many airlines choose overcrowded Heathrow [in London], not us. Such is the power of its brand,” says Mr Kehoe.

Creative spirit

Birmingham may not have established itself as a transport centre, but it has seized the opportunity to position itself as a creative media hub. This is one of the reasons that Romanian entrepreneur Tudor Barbu decided to locate in the city. “We wanted to establish our operations in the UK. [In terms of] the two most obvious locations, Cambridge seemed too academic and London too expensive. We put our bets on Birmingham Science Park [in] Aston and after six months here, I can say it was a good decision."

In December 2011, Mr Barbu, together with two colleagues, launched Storebeez – a platform enabling local vendors to set up an online store. “[Birmingham Science Park] provided us with free workspace, helped us to register our company and facilitated a demo session in front of venture capitalists,” he says.

David Hardman, CEO of Birmingham Science Park, says: “We want to internationalise our operations. For that reason we go far [to provide] help for companies that decide to move here.” Entrepreneurs can also locate their operations in the Birmingham's creative venues such as the Custard Factory and Fazeley Studios.

Although the creative spirit of these places may be on par with the more renowned East End of London, the rate of inward FDI is lagging. According tdata from greenfield investment monitor fDiMarkets, between 2007 and 2011 London received more than 20 times the number of investments of Birmingham, the second most popular destination for FDI in the UK.

Mr Whitby is well aware of the fierce competition the city faces from London. “It has the monarchy and institutions that invariably bring many businesses. [Birmingham] cannot compete with that,” he says. Yet, this has not stopped the city from competing on some levels. “Recently, The New York Times named us the culinary capital of the UK,”says Mr Whitby. The city is now working hard to establish even more claims to fame, and create more reasons for businesses to locate there.