Derby markets itself as a place that is very well connected with the rest of the UK in terms of physical infrastructure. But another of the city's considerable strengths comes through connections of a different sort. The interlinking between Derby's business community may not be as visible as motorways or railroads, but newcomers to the city can quickly get a feel for how tightly knit it is.

“People are genuinely interested to hear what you want to say. I feel welcome here,” says Nigel Wheatley, who in March was appointed as the senior centre manager at Westfield Derby, a shopping mall in the centre of the city. Despite being new to the city, Mr Wheatley says that within weeks he had met virtually all of Derby's key movers and shakers.

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Warm welcome

Importantly, such a greeting is not reserved only to people connected with the city's flagship businesses, such as Westfield. Cameron International, a Houston-headquartered oil company, opened its Derby office at the end of 2012 and employs 12 people in the city. The company's Derby headcount might be small, but Brian Haynes, Cameron's engineering director, says that it was easy to build links with other local businesses. “There are so many networking events here and they really help you with finding your footing,” he says.

Members of the city's academic institutions also take advantage of these networking opportunities. “When we are designing a course, we have to think about whether it will still be relevant after our students graduate, and there is no other way of knowing that than speaking to the businesses. That is why my colleagues and I have to be out and about,” says Keith Horton, dean of the business, computing and law faculty at the University of Derby.

A common voice

In Derby, such meetings do not only serve networking purposes. Mr Wheatley says that a lot of time is devoted to discussing how best to promote the city and deciding in what ways it should develop. “What I found in Derby is real passion about the city, about its brand and about getting things done,” says Mr Wheatley. “When the [city leaders] talk of 'regeneration', they mean it. And in Derby, regeneration has not stopped at the council, or the local government; it is in industry and commerce.” 

For Cameron executives, it was these meetings that convinced them they should set up their new office in Derby. “We had the whole UK to choose from, and we went through a long process of looking at different sites,” says Mr Haynes, who adds that Coventry and Newcastle were also considered as potential locations for the company's expansion.

“We wanted a place that offers the right set of skills and has good transportation links, but also one that looks like it is heading in the right direction in terms of the economy and where you can tell that there is a vision for the city. Derby ticked all of these boxes.”