Private sector investment is the key to the West Midlands’ post-Covid recovery, business and civic leaders were told at a face-to-face breakfast event organised by the Richardson family.
An audience of more than 170 gathered at The Hawthorn’s Richardson Suite, to hear West Midlands Mayor Andy Street hail the family-owned development company’s launch of the £100 million Richardson Enterprise Fund earlier this year, which seeks capital growth investment opportunities across the West Midlands.
Carl Richardson introduced the event, speaking of the challenges of the past 18 months and the opportunities as recovery gets under way. As well as business investment at home and abroad, Richardson is involved in major property investment close to home, with the new £160m McArthurGlen Designer Outlet centre at Cannock and 500,000 sq ft of click & collect warehousing space at Kings Norton with St Francis Group.
Andy Street, speaking after Mr. Richardson, then urged the wider private sector to invest in projects and businesses large and small across the region, to foster its recovery after the hammer blow of Covid.
Government and the public sector was short of cash, he said.
“My role with the little public money available is to leverage greater sums of private cash.”
And the upcoming Commonwealth Games in Birmingham together with the HS2 high speed rail project offered huge opportunities for the region and investors. He said a crucial deal between the government and Jaguar Land Rover was close, paving the way for the proposed electrical car battery plant, or ‘gigafactory’, in Coventry.
Mr Street said the West Midlands was among the areas hardest hit by the economic impact of the pandemic, compounded by the collapse in exports following Brexit and a mismatch between job vacancies and skills that had seen the region’s claimant count soar. “This region has taken one hell of a beating,” he said.
But the West Midlands was resilient, he said. Housing and commercial building were both strong, while there was a growing pipeline of foreign investment.
Guest speaker Helen Brocklebank, mergers & acquisitions partner at RSM, said M&A activity had soared to ‘unprecedented’ levels, with private equity investors sitting on record levels of cash, making the Midlands “the engine house of the country.” Strong opportunities were on offer to companies with strong entrepreneurial management and good ideas, said Ms Brocklebank.
During a Q&A session overseen by event host Kathryn Stanczyszyn, senior BBC political reporter, questions were fired in from business people in the room.
Supporting calls for more assistance for new and micro businesses, the event’s other main speaker, Jason Wouhra, said this was vital for the health of the region: “Entrepreneurs are the life blood of the economy,” he said.
A member of the Wouhra family that founded East End Foods half a century ago, his Lioncroft Wholesale launched a buyout of East End’s £160m cash & carry business just months after the business was sold by the family to a private equity firm. He now aims to turn it into a £500m business over the next five to six years.