Politicians and business leaders have joined forces to speak with “one voice” in a bid to secure a £1.7 billion boost and thousands of new jobs for North East Wales.
Labour, Conservative and Plaid Cymru Senedd members have pledged cross party support for the campaign to create an Investment Zone in the neighbouring counties of Wrexham and Flintshire.
One “world first” as part of the initiative could see the creation of a pop up factories to enable start-up companies to rent manufacturing lines to move from making prototypes to full-scale production.
Backing for the campaign is gaining momentum with 100 business people, politicians and council representatives attending an engagement event at Theatr Clwyd in Mold.
The meeting heard that the region’s six MSs – Sam Rowlands, Ken Skates, Llyr Gruffydd, Mark Isherwood, Carolyn Thomas and Jack Sargeant – had signed a joint letter of support to Welsh Economy Minister Vaughan Gething MS and the UK government’s Levelling Up Minister, Michael Gove MP.
They said North East Wales was in a “prime position” to make the most of the benefits of being an Investment Zone as it was already a manufacturing powerhouse with a growing reputation in the creative and digital industries, while the docuseries about Wrexham AFC was attracting international attention.
The drive to create an Investment Zone is being spearheaded by a new consortium who say it would help “leverage and secure” an additional £1.7 billion of investment.
The group includes JCB, Airbus, Net World Sports, Theatr Clwyd, North Wales Business Council, Wrexham and Flintshire councils, Wrexham University and AMRC Cymru, and is chaired by Joanna Swash, Group CEO of Wrexham-based outsourced communications provider Moneypenny.
Investment Zones already exist in parts of England where £80 million in funding for each Zone will be used over five years for innovation, infrastructure and skills and training projects in the sectors being targeted.
Speaking at the Theatr Clwyd event, Ken Skates, the Labour MS for Clwyd South, a former Welsh Government Economy Minister, said: “There’s great potential, through an Investment Zone, to play to our strengths in advanced manufacturing and the creative industries.
“It’s vitally important to support the idea of having an Investment Zone to cover two local authorities that are the engine of the regional economy of North Wales and the Mersey Dee area.
“Investment in skills and infrastructure to help businesses to innovate will bring new jobs and that’s why this is such an important project for the area and it builds on the investment by the Welsh Government in facilities like the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre Cymru and Theatr Clwyd and business park ventures bringing internationally renowned businesses to the area.
“The economic growth in Wrexham and Flintshire in terms of jobs created are far higher than both the Welsh and UK average, so something special is happening in this region but we want to make sure we turbo charge it and we need to do that by ensuring we get an Investment Zone here.”
Conservative Regional Member Sam Rowlands MS, said: “We want to see more well paid jobs in this part of the world and securing an Investment Zone would have a positive knock-on effect for the rest of North Wales as well.
“We know there is a Freeport coming to Anglesey and we want to see something similar in the east of the region as well, providing a great economic counterbalance.
“When it comes to lobbying you will have us working together as closely as we can to press the case for Wrexham and Flintshire.”
The importance of cross party support was echoed by Llyr Gruffydd MS, the Plaid Cymru Regional Member.
He said: “It’s vital that we constantly strive to create new economic opportunities for our communities here in North Wales and becoming an Investment Zone could be another such opportunity.
“The region is full of potential and we need to ensure that any new investment is targeted in the right areas and used in a way that respects the needs and aspirations of the people of Wrexham and Flintshire as well as in the surrounding communities.”
According to Ashley Rogers, the Chief Executive of the North Wales Business Council, an Investment Zone would turbocharge the economy of North East Wales.
He said: “We would be focusing on the advanced manufacturing and creative and digital sectors to secure the jobs that already exist, helping those businesses to grow and potentially creating thousands of new jobs.
“Just as important as the initial £80 million over five years would be the legacy of long term funding from business rates growth which will generate income for 25 years. That’s unparalleled. There is nowhere that has that certainty around funding – that’s incredibly important because without certainty you can’t plan and you can’t deliver.
“We are working up a full package of project and support proposals for an Investment Zone. To give a flavour, one of the concepts we have is a pop up factory which would be a ground-breaking world first, where new businesses could rent a production line for 12 months to launch their products.
“The most difficult thing for a start-up manufacturing business is going from concept and prototype, to starting production and this would short circuit that process, enabling them to save capital and de-risk the investment.
“In Creative and Digital we could focus on top of the line, fibre connected net zero business premises for start ups and grow on space for existing businesses in our town and city centres.
“The support we’re getting from the business community is exceptional and we’re really happy that we have on board private and public sector partners, including some of the biggest, world leading companies in our area like Airbus, JCB, Net World Sports, Moneypenny and Theatr Clwyd.
“Meanwhile, the cross party political support is also vitally important. The fact that we are all speaking with one voice will hopefully resonate with both the Welsh and UK governments and help secure this transformational, once-in-a-generation boost to our economy.”