Managing the crisis – capitalizing on post-pandemic opportunities

An Interview with David Fisken from the West Midlands Growth Company

The pandemic is not only a health crisis of immense proportion, it is a truly global challenge that affects the worldwide investment attraction activities of IPAs. The challenge is not only to navigate through the current crisis but to also prepare for the new normal that will emerge in the post-viral era. Our senior partner, Andreas Paulicks, had the opportunity to discuss this topic with David Fisken, Head of Business Attraction at the West Midlands Growth Company – the inward investment agency for the West Midlands UK region.

David, how did your organisation respond to the restraints caused by the Corona-Virus? Which changes were necessary?
Safeguarding our employees was the most important priority for the West Midlands Growth Company as the Covid-19 outbreak began. As a result, we were well prepared for all staff to work from home ahead of the UK Government’s official social distancing announcement. The company has since led only digital based operations. As expected, we’ve relied heavily on online platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams to engage with each other, our customers and our investment clients.

Was it possible to continue investment promotion measures?
The team usually has a strong presence at trade shows and events in overseas markets, which of course has seen major disruption as social distancing measures were gradually enforced worldwide.. However, digital communications is an integral part of investment promotion, so actually, some activity has remained consistent and in some areas, accelerated.

We’ve adjusted in focus to increase engagement with our existing investor base, ensuring they are connected to appropriate sources of support through this challenging time.

We’ve also used this time to focus on our website and have launched a new Invest West Midlands newsletter to ensure our contacts stay up to speed with projects and opportunities in the West Midlands and the innovation coming out of our universities. Through this newsletter , we’ve highlighted that our advisory team are ready to support investment enquiries from across the world.

What did it mean for your utilization of third-party suppliers, e.g. for lead generation? Could you continue these activities? In the same way or also with changes?
We’ve been able to maintain a close relationship with third party lead generation agencies, and together, gather important market intelligence and insight we would not have had otherwise. This is playing a key part in how we plan for recovery. Our lead generation agency suppliers have continued to play a significant role in maintaining our clientand key intermediary relationships and in progressing investment enquiries. Our suppliers, like us, have to adhere to government advised restrictions overseas, but have been a great support through the digital means they have. For example, sales missions we would have conducted jointly in key international markets have taken on a more virtual nature with meetings with pre-qualified investment leads happening via video-conference. Such suppliers have shown great flexibility and adaptability in re-prioritising our sector focus, sensitive to the situation for investment clients.

Did you still achieve successes attracting FDI during the past two months?
Given the severity of the economic downturn across the world, the region encouragingly has maintained a healthy investment pipeline over recent months. In keeping with UK-wide trends, new enquiries have reduced by around 30% and a number of active enquiries have been put on hold with investment decisions deferred as businesses look to focus on safeguarding existing employees and basic cash flow. Despite this, and encouragingly, we are still seeing new investment enquiries coming through and we have a good, diverse base from which to secure new investments and jobs for the region in the coming years.

Looking at what will come after the crisis: Where do you see the most important post-crisis challenges for economic development in your region?
Managing supply chain disruption and risk will be the most important challenge for the region post-crisis, which has a strong manufacturing base. The interlinked, global nature of supply chains makes them increasingly vulnerable to global shocks as the pandemic has revealed. This will mean a focus on investment strategies to support future resilience as part of the recovery process.

Reassuringly, the outbreak has equally highlighted the sheer ingenuity of West Midlands businesses – with so many companies responding to the pandemic and the nation’s need for personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators with agility and innovation. The calibre of the region’s businesses means it is well placed to take a leading role in supply chain risk management and wider economic recovery initiatives.

Also, do you think the way you conduct business internally will change after the pandemic?
I think the way we conduct business will change. This period will serve as a reckoning for remote working in general, and will help to spur on the digital transformation that was already underway. The pandemic has highlighted to us the importance of adopting a healthy and effective remote working strategy and the critical role of communications as a function.

Do you think it will be necessary to rethink your target group strategy, given the impact of the Corona crisis?
For certain firms, the pandemic has highlighted the strategic advantage to re-shoring/ localisation as a means to mitigate supply chain risk. We’re keen to reinforce the West Midlands as a cost-effective but high value location for UK investment in light of this.

From an industry perspective, we’re focusing on our digital competitiveness and the acceleration of trialling new 5G applications and services at scale. The role of digital innovation in automation technologies as well as low carbon, sustainable transport solutions is central to the West Midlands Economic Recovery Plan underway. Generally speaking, the region has a strong foundation to build on and enable recovery, with HS2 (high speed rail) and the Commonwealth Games 2022 on the horizon.

Thank you, David.

Andreas Paulicks

Senior Partner