The next tech hub is coming to a town near you

As the UK's tech industry moves away from its city-centric recruiting model, Envitia CEO Nabil Lodey looks into the emergence of regional tech hubs around the country.

The post-Covid-19 work environment has enabled many jobs to be performed remotely, which means tech companies no longer need to be based in tech hubs in major cities such as London and Manchester.

Illustrating this trend, a tech job in Brighton was recently advertised on LinkedIn claiming that the applicant could enjoy a better work environment than an equivalent role in London, plus a shorter commute to work, and lower rent. A huge number of comments to that post pointed out that Brighton’s property market is just as expensive as London and the traffic isn’t that much better.

After people, property is often the second-highest cost in the business, and if tech CEOs can increase the pool of available talent from across the nation on a remote-working basis, they can also reduce expensive office costs by rethinking where they need to be based. That’s a win-win for attracting talent and reducing costs.

There is a solid case that the fintech sector will remain anchored to London as a global hub for finance, but this argument certainly doesn’t stack up for other sectors, especially those with customers spread across the country.

At Envitia I was seriously considering expanding outside of Horsham and opening a new office in London, as part of plans to attract talented data scientists who tend to gravitate to tech hubs. But with the impact of Covid-19, this has now changed and our most recent hires have been remote workers from the North West and South West of England.

Now our growth plans include hiring talented individuals across the country with online communication and collaboration tools, which means that the need to be present in an office for the physical sharing of ideas in person is no longer the driving factor. We’d also like to attract employees who no longer feel the need to commute into London for rewarding jobs when opportunities exist in their local areas.

Growing tech hubs in the UK

A number of tech companies are already based in Horsham, including Chess Dynamics, Automation Squared, NETSOL Technologies, Creative Assembly, and Red River. We are no different to hundreds of towns up and down the country that can be a great place to build tech businesses, and in offices where people can travel to work easily without incurring the higher living expenses that you find in cities.

Horsham’s MP Jeremy Quin also gives his endorsement to the town as a great place to grow tech businesses. “I am hugely proud of the talent we have in our constituency and the businesses that are at the cutting edge of tech,” he says. “They not only contribute to the local economy but also the UK’s international reputation as an exporter of digital tech services to the global market.”

Other, less talked-about places are having a similar resurgence. Milton Keynes is fast becoming one of the UK’s new hotspot for enterprises, now home to more than 10,000 companies boasting the UK’s highest startup rates outside of London. These sit alongside Milton Keynes established software companies, such as JML Software, with a national and international reputation.

Similarly, Middlesbrough has ambitions to become the ‘Teeside Silicon Valley’ with a £250m investment announced by the mayor this year, which includes a “stunning digital skyscraper” aimed at attracting tech companies away from other major cities.

Cities that otherwise would not be thought of as ‘tech hubs’ are becoming home to multinational giants that foster talent.

Software company Amplience has a strong presence in Middlesbrough, from where it delivers content and engagement for the retail sector and has used the region to grow its core engineering team and scout for talent.

Amplience’s chief technical officer John Williams said recently: “Growing up in Middlesbrough and studying at Teesside University, I recognised the North East contained a vast amount of untapped engineering talent. During the last eight years, we have carefully assembled a phenomenal software engineering team that has created the next generation of content management systems used by 350 of the world’s leading brands.”

Cities that otherwise would not be thought of as ‘tech hubs’ are becoming home to multinational giants that foster talent, which means there is now no reason why the next UK tech unicorn couldn’t be based in Harrogate, Horsham, Hartlepool, or anywhere else across the country. In fact, this is more akin to the government’s ambition of a digital economy backbone that can then increase investment in local tech skills, rather than focusing all investment in major cities.

While London accounts for a fifth of all those employed in the tech sector, nationally there has been an increase of 40% in the past two years.

So far the UK’s technology industry is helping the jobs market through the Covid-19 pandemic, with some 90,000 jobs being advertised per week in the tech sector, according to statistics by Tech Nation. While London accounts for a fifth of all those employed in the tech sector, nationally there has been an increase of 40% in the past two years.

During his speech at the Conservative Party Conference, Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out a vision of the UK by 2030 underpinned by key advancement in the UK’s digital economy.

“Instead of being dragged on big commutes to the city, people can start a business in their hometown,” said Johnson. “A place that has not only superb transport connections and green buses, but gigabit broadband, and where the workforce is abundantly equipped not just with university degrees but with the technical skills that the new economy demands.”

Nabil Lodey is CEO of Envitia, a data software and services company based in Horsham whose clients include the Ministry of Defence and the UK Environment Agency.

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