Confidence is the key for Swansea Bay investment
No matter how technically sophisticated global business dealings become, the prevailing factor in any deal will always be one of confidence.
I managed to go along to a couple of events last week that reinforced this commercial reality.
The first was as part of an invited audience who gathered at the National Waterfront Museum to hear – and get a virtual-reality insight – of how development potential in the locality is reaching a crucial investment phase.
Aimed at property finance outfits and would-be development partners, ‘Shaping Swansea’ focused on key council-owned sites which are ‘over-ready’ for domestic and overseas stakeholders keen to get in at the ground floor.
Attendees were given a business-like account from leading players as to how the city and region were coalescing energies into a comprehensive regeneration approach. The message is that Swansea is not just a short-term attraction but something sustainable over time for forward-thinking investors.
This is the kind of narrative that reassures fund managers at a time of uncertainty elsewhere.
It also clearly draws on harsh lessons learned by the local authority from the Hammersons debacle and the ill-fated Castle Quays scheme. In essence, bad vibes about development can cause interest to disappear faster than toilet rolls from a supermarket shelf.
What's also important is that this sea-change in perception is backed up by evidence. The public-private sector partnerships that flourished regionally in recent times helped obtain the City Deal package. This in turn prompted recognition among some big-money names who are now taking a closer look at the region.
Based on a few of the conversations I saw going on, this could soon be paying dividends.
Despite a somewhat 'challenging' sound-system, the keynote theme delivered from the stage was that a sense of realism lies behind business thinking in the region and especially among SMEs.
The upfront talk from nominees was a refreshing step forward for those who’ve attended over the years and seen the occasion evolve from just another ‘posh frocks’ awards dinner into an opportunity for small and medium enterprises to share their story with contemporaries.
You could see how everyone present and who has a stake in the business scene was able identify with the failures that serve as painful milestones but which are an essential part of a learning curve. They were also just as eager to applaud achievement – no matter how modest – in the face of these challenging times.
It's possible that I'm selectively looking for positive signs but both events summed up for me that Swansea Bay is steadily evolving to the stage where there is now something that resembles real substance behind the branding.
All we need is a little confidence – on all sides.
Looking to the future with lessons from the past
One of the project sites listed in the Shaping Swansea event was the Hafod-Morfa Copperworks development. This ambitious riverside project is looking to create a world-class open-air museum complex comparable to established venues such as Ironbridge and Beamish.
It’s a partnership scheme involving Swansea University, Swansea Council, heritage body CADW and Welsh government and which is hoping to secure substantial grant support.
Unsurprisingly, the imaginative project has also attracted private sector input from whisky distillers Penderyn and the gob-smacking Skyline cable ride that will span the valley across to the summit of Kilvey Hill.
A lot of the spadework (quite literally) that has gone into to getting matters to this point has mostly come from volunteers.
Unlike the business-based counterparts, they’ve had to rely on ad-hoc support. Now that things have progressed, the aim is raise funding that can be used to fit out a facility that will give the Friends Group a base from which to provide guided walks plus undertake clearance and restoration work.
I’ll be writing more in future about the impressive work by these volunteers but in the meantime please help their crowd-funding effort by visiting https://www.spacehive.com/copperworks-community-centre.