The Black Country’s reputation as a visitor and inward investment destination is on the up, according to new figures released by local marketing partnership Marketing Birmingham.
With the region already renowned for its manufacturing heritage, it is also building a reputation for leisure tourism, with a 21% growth in visitor numbers to its attractions in 2012 compared with 2011.
Against a tough economic backdrop, the Black Country also saw a 15% increase in new jobs created by foreign direct investment (FDI) projects in 2012/13.
The research was carried out by the Regional Observatory, the research arm operated by Marketing Birmingham. The results coincide with significant activity by Marketing Birmingham and Invest Black Country, which has promoted the Black Country region as a place to visit, meet and invest since 2011 as part of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) “Investing in the City Region” project.
Neil Rami, Chief Executive of Marketing Birmingham, said:
“These encouraging figures emphasise the value and positive effect of collaborative working across the West Midlands. By delivering successful campaigns with our Black Country partners like Dudley Zoological Gardens and Invest Black Country, the wider region’s national and international profile as a business and tourism hub has continued to grow, with Birmingham seeing similarly positive improvements.
“The results prove that more people are choosing to come here – and we must build on this success to create more local jobs. Ongoing investments into our transport networks, including the redevelopment of Birmingham Airport, extension of the Midland Metro and a revamped New Street station, will ensure that more people than ever can visit and invest in the region.”
Emerging tourism centre
The variety of popular venues across the Black Country – ranging from sport to culture and educational sites – has attracted an increase in tourist numbers to the area by over a fifth (21%) since 2011. Visitors to tourist attractions went up by more than 840,000, from 3.9 million to 4.8 million. Overall, the region’s total visitor numbers hit 25.2 million in 2012.
Promotional activity by Marketing Birmingham has helped to raise the area’s profile with potential visitors, with seasonal campaigns including Open for Christmas. This campaign included The Black Country Living Museum in a national television commercial that aired throughout June 2012, as part of VisitEngland’s biggest ever domestic tourism campaign, ‘Holidays at Home are Great’. Using a series of advertisements featuring UK stars Stephen Fry, Rupert Grint and Julie Walters, the campaign helped to generate £300 million in additional spend across the country.
More than 250 positive pieces of Black Country media coverage have been generated over the past twelve months, with Marketing Birmingham helping the region to welcome journalists from as far afield as Germany, China and the USA for articles on tourism, conferencing and inward investment.
Following this activity, the Black Country visitor economy was valued at £777.4 million in 2012, an increase of 6% – £47 million – since 2011.
Dudley Zoological Gardens (DZG) has continued this positive trend into 2013 with a 17% rise in visitor numbers between January and July. It is undergoing a £3 million improvement programme to include new shops, food outlets and signage.
Peter Suddock, Chief Executive Officer of DZG and Chair of Visit the Black Country Partnership, said:
“These are exciting times at DZG with year-on-year visitor growth and our continued significant investment programme well underway – given the current economic climate this is marvellous news.
“The big rises of double figures have come in the past two years and are due to investment across DZG’s 40-acre site, rebranding and daily website activity which has gained us access to a whole new market.
“Reaching out to new customers to promote our offer is important to us, so we have embraced the opportunity to work with Marketing Birmingham and other partners across the region.”
Jobs boost from overseas
Despite increasing competition between locations to attract FDI, the Black Country secured the same number of investments in 2012/13 as the year before – and generated an increase in the number of new jobs created by foreign investors. This coincides with the establishment of Invest Black Country, the Investment Promotion and Development Agency for the area and a stronger collaboration between Birmingham and the Black Country.
The region secured a 15% rise in the number of new jobs created by foreign investors – from 224 to 257 in 2012/13. The average number of jobs created per investment also grew to 26, compared with 22 in 2011/12.
Overall, the Black Country maintained its success in attracting high-profile, global companies with ten investments, the same number as the previous year. Notable investments included the expansion of Midland company UTC Aerospace Systems in Wolverhampton – with an extra 200 people recruited at its Fordhouses site – and the acquisition of Aldridge-based industrial machine repairs company Lektronix by US firm Rockwell Automation.
Commenting on this success, Wayne Langford, Head of Investment, Programmes and Development at Invest Black Country, added:
“The Black Country has long held a world-class reputation for manufacturing, becoming the well-established home to major global players including German engineering giant ThyssenKrupp and the Swedish engineering firm Sandvik.
“With its central location, extensive supply chains and the expertise of its workforce, the region is now really upping its game as a location that successfully attracts foreign investors and is creating local employment as a result.”