A little over year ago, shortly after the Welsh government took over the ailing Cardiff Airport from a private investor, fDi met with Jason Thomas, the government representative in charge of the project. Mr Thomas talked about the airport's potential both as a transport hub and a display of Welsh heritage, but his vision was not an easy sell, to say the least.

To get to the airport, visitors had to go through a military-style security booth, the departure hall was dated and passenger traffic was at a record low. But in the past year, the airport authorities have extensively renovated the entrance, replacing the Checkpoint Charlie-like security booth with an automated system.

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The airport has also seen the return of budget carrier Ryanair after an eight-year hiatus and gained a new tenant, CityJet, a regional carrier flying to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Jersey and Paris. “It has been a very intense year, but it feels great to see the airport turning around and becoming something both passengers and staff can be proud of,” says Mr Thomas, now chief-of-staff at the Cardiff Airport. He adds that the intensity of the past year was also multiplied by increased traffic connected with big events such as football's European Super Cup at the Cardiff City Stadium, and the NATO Summit, which saw 17 heads of states, 13 foreign ministers and 15 defence ministers touching down at Cardiff Airport ahead of meetings in Cardiff and Newport.

In for the long haul

The airport still has a long way to go, however, with passenger traffic half of what it was in 2007 when Cardiff Airport recorded 2.1 million passengers through its doors. But Mr Thomas is optimistic: “Based on the developments of the past year or so, there are reasons to believe that we are heading in the right direction.” And the numbers back this up. According to a survey published by consumer magazine Which?, Cardiff Airport increased its passenger traffic by 6.8% in the year to June, while the passenger satisfaction rate rose by about 15%.

The airport is not the only element of Cardiff's infrastructure that is undergoing a facelift. UK rail operator Network Rail is overseeing a $570.2m electrification of tracks between London and Wales, and across South Wales. The first phase of the project is scheduled to be completed by 2018 and is expected to shave 20 minutes off the journey time between Cardiff and London, lowering it to 1 hour 45 minutes.

Mark Langman, Network Rail's route managing director, says: “Importantly, the electrification will not only reduce the travel time, but also allow for more capacity and more modern trains, which will improve the comfort of the journey to London and across the region.” To handle the anticipated increase in traffic and longer trains, Network Rail has also unrolled a $358.4m scheme to modernise a number of stations in the region, including Cardiff's two central stations.

Internet exchange hub

The internet infrastructure in Cardiff Capital Region, a southern part of Wales that includes the cities of Cardiff and Newport, is also changing. “Our connectivity is good. We already have free Wi-Fi points across the city centre and are planning to add it in public buses, but there is even more to come,” says Ken Poole, head of economic development at Cardiff's council.

Mr Poole is referring to Internet Exchange, an initiative allowing internet service providers to pass traffic between their customers at a reduced cost. “Cardiff is going to be one of the few places in the UK that will have the Internet Exchange,” says Mike Bampfield, board member of Central Cardiff Enterprise Zone in charge of ICT. “The new infrastructure will help keep local internet traffic here and that will save telecommunications businesses a significant amount of money.”

The past year also saw changes to the city's real estate. In June BBC Wales, a local branch of the national broadcaster, announced its decision to move its headquarters from Cardiff's suburbs to the city centre. The new office, estimated to cost $277m and scheduled for completion in 2018, will be located next door to Cardiff's central railway and bus station, and is expected to transform the area, which currently consists largely of snack bars and charity shops, into a new business cluster.

Number one

Soon the city will also see the opening of Number One Capital Quarter, a modern office building that can accommodate up to 1000 staff and which is a part of a larger complex that will eventually also gain student accommodation and another office development. Number One Capital Quarter, although started by a private developer, was acquired last year by the Welsh government to ensure that Cardiff has a supply of new offices for potential investors.

“For sectors that Cardiff is targeting, such as financial services or tech, investors cannot be told that they have to wait for two years for a space,” says Chris Sutton, regional director at Jones Lang LaSalle, a global real estate consultancy. “Cardiff has such a pipeline now, at a time when supply of space in other UK cities is decreasing.”

Capital Quarter is located in the Central Cardiff Enterprise Zone, another development that saw big change in 2014. In June, the zone gained status as an EU-assisted area, which means that financing will be available for companies willing to move there.

One company soon to become resident at Number One Capital Quarter is Alert Logic, an American cloud computing security firm with plans to create 130 jobs in Cardiff. The company's decision to move to the Welsh capital is the first success of Cardiff Business Council, a business-led entity created in 2013 to promote investment into Cardiff Capital Region. 

Cardiff Business Council chairman Nigel Roberts says: "We know how to do business. We gave Alert Logic representatives a VIP experience with a blacked out Mercedes waiting for them on their arrival at the airport followed by meetings with Cardiff’s top universities and rounding off their experience with a supper at Cardiff Castle.” He adds that, VIP stunts aside, Alert Logic's decision confirms that Cardiff is seen as a viable option for companies investing in hi-tech sectors. "It is great to see that others are beginning to see potential in Cardiff too and invest their money in the city,” he says. 

The costs of this report were underwritten by the Welsh government. Writing and editing were carried out independently by fDi Magazine