Promoting the creation of 100,000 new jobs over the next quarter of a century is the task of a Horsham-based regional business partnership - according to its leader.
Ron Crank, chief executive of Coast to Capital, the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) was excited about the obstacles to be faced, but admitted the two years since it replaced the abolished Regional Development Agency had been extremely challenging.
C2C, stretching from Croydon to Brighton and Hove and including all of West Sussex, was formed in 2011 with the aim of stimulating private sector business growth.
Speaking to the County Times Mr Crank explained why C2C had moved to Horsham, what his key priorities were, how businesses could defy a challenging economic climate, and where future funding would come from.
Leading a team of five based in Horsham’s Hurst Road, a varied career has seen the LEP’s chief executive work in the hospitality industry, including a stint at Lancashire County Cricket Club, as well as in the key role of developing an economic strategy for West Sussex County Council.
Mr Crank said: “I know I can make a difference. I have done it before and I can do it again.
“We’re putting structures in place that actually work, that actually expedite business.
“The work that we are doing is laying the foundations for Coast to Capital to go from strength to strength.”
He said it was important to be based in the middle of the patch and Horsham offered good rail links to London. The LEP sponsored Horsham Disitrct Council’s recent annual Microbiz event and it would be employing local people said Mr Crank.
Crucial to C2C’s success, he emphasised, was developing and retaining the traction and recognition they had already created, and part of the challenge is to maintain partnerships between local authorities and business organisations.
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Asked what his key priorities for the area were, Mr Crank named promoting exports, international tourism, embedding enterprise in
education, and encouraging firms to be more entrepreneurial, are some of the LEPs key priorities.
He hoped these measures would contribute to 100,000 new jobs by 2035 in the Coast to Capital area.
Already C2C is driving more businesses to explore export opportunities, running three export clubs, and working with UK Trade & Investment, a Government department working to ensure British success in international markets.
“We need to start again. Businesses need to export more,” he added. “The only way out is to export more. We need more acknowledgement of apprenticeships, we need more housing and better roads.”
There was the potential to bid for £36m Department for Transport funding to improve road pinch points in the area.
Another development that may increase the scope of C2C’s activities is Lord Heseltine’s ‘No stone unturned: in pursuit of growth’ report, which recommended setting up a central fund of £58bn that LEPs across the country could bid for.
Mr Crank said he and his team would look closely at the situation as it developed to see how it affected them, but at the moment it was important they had C2C’s governance was correct and they had the right partners in place.
As well as full-time employees C2C has a board responsible for strategic direction and accountability, chaired by John Peel, with leaders from West Sussex County Council, Surrey County Council, and Brighton & Hove City Council sitting on it.
He praised the work Horsham District Council was undertaking to stimulate the local economy, and singled out Louise Goldsmith, leader of WSCC for what he described as tremendous financial, political and moral support.
Identified growth sectors included environment and technology, creative media and IT, health and life sciences, financial services, and advance engineering.
Mr Crank has successfully lobbied the Treasury for deregulation of home-based businesses, to be benefit of many new small enterprises set up in the Horsham district since the economic downturn in 2008.
The LEP is currently trying to find which businesses need its help in pinpointing opportunities for further growth.
For more information visit www.coast2capital.org.uk