RALLYING calls have gone out to businesses to shout out about their successes, capitalise on York’s UNESCO designation and aim high.

York Business Week kicked off on Monday, with its Future York Conference, which highlighted both the city’s strengths and challenges ahead.

Opening the event at York Racecourse, Sean Bullick, managing director of Make It York, which has organised the event, asked: “Who knew that business in York are working with the Bill Gates Foundation to find a cure for malaria?

"Who knew that kids around the world are playing Broken Sword, devised by Revolution in Shambles? This week is about celebrating the amazing diversity, quality and success of York businesses.”

He said York was also special because of the “genuine desire, ability and consensus about the need to work together”.

Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, told York’s business community that the city had a key role to play in closing the north-south divide.

As one of the keynote speakers, he told delegates the city had been enjoying an “economic renaissance” and had a growing role and importance within the northern economy.York Press:

However, it is constrained by housing and transport issues as well as its tourism brand, he said.

Highlighting the city’s strengths and challenges ahead, he said the city would benefit from better connections with places like Manchester and Liverpool, as well as Scarborough to help grow its businesses and attract talent.

“There’s still a huge gap between north and south but we have started to turn the corner and the economic renaissance that we have seen here in York for the last few years is very much part of that story, in particular the Hiscox relocation to the city which I would say is one of the defining points where people started to really realise, beyond York, quite what the proposition you have here is.”

He said defining features of York were its university, knowledge economy, SMEs and the “particularly fast-growing business pace”.

“That gives you a lot in common with cities like Manchester or Leeds as well as your historical rivals.

“The historical and political context as well as the basic geography of York is really important because the challenge in York - even with the York Central development, which I would say is one of the most exciting urban bits of regeneration happening anywhere in the UK at the moment, never mind the north - you are still constrained by housing and by places to put stuff essentially.

“The reality is there are lots of people who want to live and work here but how do you accommodate them all?”

He added: “York’s connectivity to London is already one of its great assets but it is not well connected, for instance, to Manchester. It isn’t even well connected to Scarborough and you are the nearest major city to one of the places in the UK that is the most socially disadvantaged in terms of its significant levels of deprivation.

“People who live there, by and large, do not have access to employment in higher wage areas like York and are largely dependent on a seasonal economy. The importance of a city like York to people who live far beyond its boundaries cannot be overstated.”

Mr Murison also said people beyond Yorkshire and the north “do not necessarily understand this place beyond its very obvious tourism brand”.

“That’s why I particularly celebrate the work partners in York are doing to help it find the brand of this place better because it absolutely has a better set of business assets that people beyond this city know about.

“You are so popular and so well known as a historic, beautiful asset in the heritage of our country that that crowds out the very important economic story.”

But he stressed: “You don’t have to choose. In terms of the Northern Powerhouse we are not asking you to become any less ‘York’. We want you to be excited about this place, and particularly assets it has, for instance, in the bio-economy.

“We ask you to celebrate those assets and opportunities; for instance, the University of Leeds opening a centre for high speed rail is good news for York because the primary base in the Leeds City Region’s eco system for rail manufacturing and supply chain is in York.”

He said the goal to close the north-south divide was a big economic challenge, which would be driven by SMEs growing and succeeding in the north.

“We, as the Northern Powerhouse, are great supporters of York and believe York has a central place in closing that north-south divide.”

He also said York’s competition was not its neighbour, Leeds, but places like Barcelona, Lille and most the big cities in Germany.

“York is stronger for being next to Leeds; and it works both ways. York needs Leeds as much as Leeds needs York. That was crucial in getting Channel 4 in Leeds.”

Also on stage was Juliette Healey, of the Bank of England, who talked about the regional economic picture and what York might expect in the coming months.

Technology marketer Bethan Vincent, of Netsells, highlighted a digital skills shortage in York and asked employers to consider what they were doing to help bridge that gap. She also spoke about how York businesses can capitalise on technological trends, and urged businesses to consider their use and storage of data.

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Yorkshire record-breaking ultra runner Nicky Spinks drew parallels between training and running a business, sharing stories with delegates of her own challenges, both personal and as a farmer.

She said her motto was to aim high, which could be applied to businesses.

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“Aim high, but you have to re-assess when things are not going right and when you finish be satisfied with what you have achieved and move on,” she added.

Tom Bird, executive director for York Theatre Royal, urged businesses to ‘shout about’ operating in a city boasting the UNESCO City of Media Arts designation, and use it to their benefit. Although it doesn’t bring funding, he said, it was “a medal from the United Nations to be proud of” and which could help promote city businesses and “be a lever for investment”.

Dr Sarah Hickingbottom, CEO of BioVale - a bio-economy cluster, appealed to businesses to work with them to build an innovation-fuelled economy.York Press:

There are 16,000 businesses working in the circular bioeconomy across Yorkshire and Humber, and she said ground-breaking work was going on, from big players like Drax to farmers growing hemp to be used as new construction materials.

“York is the anchor city for all this innovation to happen. In the UK we are amazing at what we do in terms of research, innovation and commercialisation but not so good at scaling it up. BioVale is working to support this.

“We have had EU funding to design entrepreneurship training. We are working with start-ups but most are from elsewhere in the UK or Europe. It is challenging. York is the gap in the jigsaw. BioVale is here to help you work with us. We take SMEs and innovators out to the world’s biggest trade fairs. We can support you.”

There was also an exhibition of businesses and organisations operating in York and beyond, including James Dickinson, director and owner of Nettl of York - a web design, printing and graphic design franchise in Micklegate.

"I have been in York since February. There's a lot of entreprenurship here. There are a lot of small businesses and that encourages small business growth as opposed to big cities that are geared more towards big commercial industries. I have found York very supportive and welcoming."

Andrew Digwood, of Rollitts and president of the York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, said: "This is a great opportunity for businesses to get together in one place; to create some breathing space out of the office; to hear speakers and share some thoughts about the issues that are pertinent for us all."

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Susan Binnersley, pictured, of h2h Resources, which was also exhibiting, said: "York has lots to celebrate and be proud of in terms of its economy and its business opportunities here. As business owners we all need to shout louder about our economic importance and how it has a role to play in balancing the north-south divide."

York Business Week continues all week. 

For a programme visit www.yorkbusinessweek.com