What the future holds for Manchester’s family businesses

Great Manchester Business Conference

The Great Manchester Business Conference on Friday March 6th 2015 was a busy, content-packed day, outlining the trends and opportunities for Greater Manchester’s businesses in the next few years. Here’s my take on what the future holds for family firms:

Devolution

Sir Howard Bernstein outlined the huge impact of devolution to a Greater Manchester combined authority: Manchester will take control over a single budget for housing, health and transport. For firms whose staff live and work within Manchester, improved commuting could be an early win. Many family firms employ older people and with better healthcare resulting in even more workers being fit and healthy beyond the traditional retirement age. Improved housing means that more students and those seeking work will be able to move to Manchester to find jobs, meaning a larger skills pool for family firms looking to recruit.

Manufacturing

The irrepressible Wayne Jones, Chair of Stockport Economic Alliance and champion of manufacturing, reminded us that “products are make in a factory; brands are made in your mind”. Family firms need to promote their unique brand to customers, suppliers and end-users if they are going to retain a competitive edge in a highly globalised and competitive industry.

Family firms should take advantage of the increased government funding for innovation in Greater Manchester Manufacturing Strategy and the trend for reshoring described in the Alliance Report on textile manufacturing. Technological innovation, close understanding of customer requirements and responding quickly to requests for new products will be crucial for survival.

Tourism

Family firms in the tourism industry could take advantage of an increase in hotel beds from 8.5K to 9.2K in the next two years. Tourists from China and the UAE continue to increase, to the extent that Manchester is now the number 1 shopping destination outside London. Family firms in the restaurant business, looking to expand a known offering, will do well in Manchester.

Technology

The Manchester Corridor and Manchester Science Park continue to offer an agglomeration of skills and financing for family firms in the high-tech industry. Microsoft’s speech recognition and translation software will make internationalisation easier for family firms who do not speak other languages. The megatrends of big data, social engagement, mobile users and cloud computing will continue. Family firms who underestimate the potential of their young employees and customers will be left behind.

Financing

Family firms can take advantage of an increasing number of financial products: Urica as an alternative to invoice financing, the British Business Bank for firms who want to grow. While the banks speaking at the event seemed to think there were plenty of products and clear signposting for SMEs, the businesses themselves were not convinced.

John Ashcroft and Steph McGovern

John Ashcroft from GMCC and Steph McGovern from the BBC – our hosts for the day

In conclusion, the future is bright for family firms who can provide high quality, scaleable products and who are able to respond quickly to technological change.