WE LIVE in a rapidly-changing global economy where no business is immune from the affects of decisions made elsewhere across the world.

York has recently experienced negative aspects of this change through significant job losses in the manufacturing and finance sectors; but it has also been buffered to some extent by the growth of businesses and jobs in the knowledge-based economy through Science City York.

A big question is 'where does York go from here?' Answering that, at least in part, is the task of the recently appointed Future York Group, chaired by former chief executive of GNER, Christopher Garnett.

As stated in The Press (15 November 2006), this group expects to produce a report 'hopefully with some constructive suggestions' by Spring this year.

This is important because, as I have persistently repeated in this column, if we do not have clear ideas of where we are going, it is that much more difficult to know how to get there! York urgently needs a clearer definition of its economic vision for the challenging years ahead.

To achieve understanding and consensus across the city and region, it is critically important to involve the community at all levels and to explain options; what is being attempted; and what is possible.

By doing this successfully it will be possible to replace misconceptions and apprehensions with a proper understanding of the longer-term benefits and rewards that a modern, knowledge-based economy can bring to a city such as York.

Year 2007 promises to provide some special opportunities for the York community better to appreciate the contribution made by knowledge, science, and technology-based businesses.

For a start, the fourth annual Venturefest Yorkshire event will take place at the Racecourse on February 7.

At least 3,000 delegates are expected at this exciting day that "connects knowledge and technology based entrepreneurs with everything they need to make them successful".

Venturefest aims to provide support from the very earliest stage of business development - even just an initial idea - and then help the company to access the many services that will be needed to achieve success.

One high-profile way of doing this has been through the Venturefest Business Plan competition, organised by Connect Yorkshire.

Last year this prize, worth £25,000, was won by a small company - Myfotowall - that allows the customer to create a unique and dynamic pictorial wallcovering for use within both commercial and residential premises.

The affect of such a prize on a small business is explained by its managing director Stephen Armitage. "Winning the prize has had a significant impact on my business - particularly in terms of raising its profile and attracting customers.

"One of the most challenging aspects of starting a new business is having the right financial support and advisers. Venturefest offers a gateway to reaching these in one venue and on one date, using your precious time as efficiently as possible to form relationships that can help your business grow.

"Every business needs to sell itself to a wide audience and, with visitor numbers growing and national support from investment companies, you would be wasting a day of your business potential if you did not get involved."

In keeping with previous Venturefests, Myfotowall will be presenting at the breakfast session on February 7 to describe how they have prospered over the past year.

So that's one big jamboree for the science and knowledge-based business community, and there are others too, not least The Press's own prestigious Business Awards competition that encourages entries from all sectors, scientific and non-scientific, large and small. They all help to stimulate the synergy, competition and growth of our dynamic young businesses.

But all of this will be pretty meaningless if the population at large does not have an understanding of what it means and if we cannot demonstrate the very positive benefits that science and technology bring to society.

York has an exceptional opportunity to pursue this theme during 2007 through the presence of the BA Festival of Science to be held here from September 9-15. This event is billed as Europe's largest science festival and among its key objectives are:

  • To celebrate the excitement of new scientific developments
  • To highlight scientific research across the region
  • To inspire school children, A-level students and college students to consider university education in the sciences
  • To demonstrate the relevance of science in our daily lives

There will be over 200 events with more than 350 scientists, social scientists, engineers and commentators taking part. Most of the UK's science correspondents will be camped in York during the week and a footfall of more than 50,000 delegates is expected.

If ever there was an opportunity for the Yorkshire public to come together with the scientific and knowledge-based community, this surely is it.

Only by more widespread understanding, and acceptance, of the societal and economic benefits of science and technology will the full rewards be achievable. York continues to be uniquely positioned to benefit from the advantages of a knowledge-based economy in the 21st century but it needs a clearer vision if potential is to be translated fully into reality.