Among the many initiatives led by local, regional and national authorities and aimed at making the UK one of the world's most attractive destinations for inward investment, is the memorandum of understanding signed by the country's Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and the national investment agency, UK Trade & Investment (UKTI).
There are expectations that UKTI, with its large resources, will allocate the necessary support to each of the LEPs as part of the initiative. But the LEPs can help themselves significantly simply by having a framework of critical success factors to attract FDI. These factors are not intended to serve as a to-do list, but to develop an awareness of and recognise the shortcomings in becoming a top-rated destination for FDI in the UK.
At the top of the list is having a clear brand message. By developing a positioning message, an LEP region can differentiate itself from the competition by emphasising its competitive advantage. This can make the promotion exciting and inspiring, and it develops a clear and concise message.
Provision of local labour skills, intelligence and recruitment support is also important. Being able to supply fast facts about the LEP region to provide a snapshot view to investors also helps. This includes information such as:
- Journey to work/catchment areas for workforce as well as types of sector skills;
- Age profile of local workforce;
- Productivity data;
- Labour costs in the LEP region and how it compares nationally;
- Labour force activities;
- Higher education provisions;
- All education attainment levels;
- Identify available labour pools with appropriate skills;
- Recruitment support; and
- Training for the staff and help with retaining the workforce.
Having an up-to-date land and property database, a free searchable online database of available sites and services to support site visits is another critical factor, as is business-friendly planning. This may include business champions in the planning service, providing a first point of contact for business enquiries and feedback, and pointing enquirers to the right place for advice.
Other elements of this might include providing clearer guidance and information for businesses on the planning pages of the city council’s website, including a dedicated point of access with information tailored to business needs; signposting other relevant services providers and partners to provide easy access to available information relating to planning, development and investing in the LEP region; and a pre-application procedure, which sets out a clear and consistent set of service standards and guidance to resolve any issues and prevent delays before the submission of a full planning application.
Business enquiries could also be allocated a dedicated case officer and the application dealt with through a 'development team' approach – providing a link to investment and growth departments or officers.
Although in the public sector there is usually no talk of competitor analysis, it is vital that some analysis is carried out and indicators identified to measure how people perceive the local LEP. This would provide a link to investment and growth departments within the local authorities as well as the inward investment growth team, and, in short, maintain an awareness of ‘our’ offer versus ‘competitors’.
Understanding key sector supply chain networks and intermediaries also requires attention when considering inward investment. This includes:
- Gathering details of local regional key strategic employers;
- Strengthening the relationship between local authorities and intermediaries;
- Understanding where the leads usually come from and tracking the source;
- Providing comprehensive information on ‘multipliers’ or value-adding intermediaries; and
- Contributing to government-to-government dialogues with key markets nationally and internationally.
There needs to be a proactive and visible level of public sector collaboration, and therefore a commitment to working with businesses and the public sector across key sectors locally, regionally and beyond, and to government-to-government dialogue with key target markets nationally and internationally.
Having a strategic business champion or a regional ambassador programme is also important. It can provide insights into how local authorities can best deliver for the business; continue to brief the relevant local councillors and members of parliament, senior officers and ambassadors on key business priorities and interests as they might arise; and meet overseas delegations and inward missions.
The requirement of a comprehensive partners network cannot be emphasised sufficiently. Creating and leading strategic partnerships to improve intelligence and level of inward investment.
The specifics include: identifying specific geographies; identifying specific industries or companies; working with UKTI to improve international trade and to service inward investment enquiries; working with the Chamber of Commerce; sector forums; developing relationships with organisations; organising trade missions; and understanding key contributions from other key stakeholders such as the Bank of England and Confederation of British Industry.
Given that many of the UK's traditional business support brands, such as the Business Link, are no long active, the live support network for businesses is important. In the main, for each inward investment enquiry, consider:
- Locations and access to markets;
- Globalisation and trends in mobility;
- Technological changes and location;
- Transportation needs and access;
- Labour requirements and workforce;
- Property requirements and workforce;
- Property and design requirements;
- Supply chains and linkages;
- Training and business development support;
- Local facilities – cultural, education, retail, housing, recreational; and
- Networks and collaborations.
The efficient use of a customer relationship management (CRM) system to manage different levels of inward investment enquiries is important and, by asking questions around customers, LEPs can improve efficiencies. Consideration needs to be given to questions such as:
- How do our relationships with customers generate value (source of value)?
- What is the value potential of specific customer groups (customer value profiles)?
- Who are our most valued customers?
- How will their value potential change over time (dynamics of value)?
- What factors can we influence that will increase the value potential of our customers?
When selecting a relevant CRM system, it is important to be thinking from the customer’s perspective:
- Who are our customers and what is our market?
- What are the products and services that we provide?
- What is our geographic domain?
- What key technology do we employ?
- How will we conduct ourselves to ensure our survival?
- What is it that we believe?
- How do we see ourselves?
- How do our customers see us?
- How do we want our customers to see us?
- What is our responsibility to the larger community?
- Do we project our brand consistently across all of our existing channels?
- Do we project our brand consistently within each conversation with customers?
A 'first-class' communications strategy is even more relevant since a clear, consistent approach is needed for meetings and negotiations, correspondence regarding enquiries and quotations, communications with agents or distributors, exhibitions and trade fairs, advertising, and marketing. It is essential to have an understanding of the mindset of other cultures.
When considering communicating in other languages, expertise in the following topics may be required: advertising, press releases, product brochures, presentations, speeches, business proposals, feasibility reports and blogs.
A ‘soft landing' service for inward investors can be organised in the four main segments:
- People, including local labour pool analysis, salary and ease of recruitment information;
- Process, including property and incubator identification and short-term accommodation;
- Property, including legal requirements, cost analysis, professional services for business establishment and mobile services; and
- Public relations, including advice on events and target media, joint PR announcements and promotional opportunities.
Suites of tools for inward investor proposition development are necessary and can include:
- The identification of clusters and competitive advantage;
- A census of companies, cluster structures and market leaders;
- Profiling linkages and supply chains;
- Profiling networks, collaboration and lobbying;
- Reviewing strengths and integration;
- Identifying weaknesses and business constraints;
- Area and cluster visibility;
- Identifying customised business support and training initiatives; and
- Developing strategies and action plans – here access to fDi Markets and fDi Benchmark are invaluable in creating smart propositions and presentations.
LEPs need to have an active awareness of the 'lifestyle offer' for inward investors living locally and regionally. This includes education and schools, retail, leisure and culture, cultural heritage, festivals, restaurants and pubs, entertainment destinations in the region, and the signature projects in the region.
Being able to deliver a rapid solutions service is critical as the investors may also be considering other geographies and therefore an efficient and professional approach to inward investors is key. This means:
- Getting the enquiry to the right individuals within the LEP region or the local authority;
- Ranking enquiries against key priorities or sectors;
- Providing appropriate responses to inward investors' enquiries and prospects;
- Maintaining excellent customer care and follow up, which is critical for developing a reputation as a place that welcomes investment and will work hard to win; and
- Maintaining the good-quality data necessary for inward investors.
Overall, while the UK continues to attract significant levels of FDI, and the London region remains the major attraction, it is expected that these success factors will allow LEPs to differentiate themselves and aid them in developing a comprehensive FDI strategy for themselves.
Jiva Odedra is a business development officer at Wolverhampton City Council and, since 2012, has been working actively within the Black Country LEP on its inward investment agenda. He helped set up Invest Black Country.