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On average five new businesses per month set up or expand in the town to join Milton Keynes, the birthplace of innovative, world leaders such as the Open University and the Red Bull Racing F1 team. And given its growth in population as industries have flocked to this welcoming location over the decades, it may come as a surprise to learn that Milton Keynes’ status has not changed from its reclassification as a new town in the 1960s.
The desire to be recognised as a city means the council is hoping Milton Keynes will win the Queen’s attention during her Diamond Jubilee celebrations next year when she will become personally involved in turning a town into a city by way of special royal favour.
Whilst the town is the youngest of all the applicants, its demographic growth is impressive. The population in 1980 was around 126,000. In 2009, the population had grown 90 per cent to 238,000. Over the years, as families have matured and more have moved into the area, many newly qualified and talented people have tended to turn to London in which to launch their careers. On balance, many experienced business people have come to work in Milton Keynes from other major cities, later in their careers.
It all began back in 1967 after three existing towns (Bletchley, Wolverton and Stony Stratford along with 15 villages) were incorporated into Milton Keynes, which was itself originally a village. The site was deliberately planned to be equidistant from London, Birmingham, Leicester, Oxford and Cambridge. The location caught the attention of foreign companies who saw it as ideal for serving their needs as a UK and European base.
As international attention grew, facilities within the local communities began to expand and cater for people moving into the area. For example, in the 1980s a Japanese school was established in Milton Keynes to help accommodate families as they relocated in line with employment.
“These changes have created the necessary momentum and reputation needed to show that Milton Keynes is a good place to do business,” says Stephen Eames, Managing Partner of the local Mazars office.
It certainly worked, with just about every business sector now represented in Milton Keynes. On average, five businesses either move into or expand in the town every month. There are over 300 foreign-owned companies with a high representation from Europe, as well as Japan and Taiwan who all see Milton Keynes as key to their export strategy and expansion plans.
As well as being the headquaters of the Open University, major companies which over the years have moved their regional headquarters to the town include well-known names: Santander (formerly Abbey National), Volkswagen, Daimler, BP, and Home Retail Group to name a few.
These changes have created the necessary momentum and reputation needed to show that Milton Keynes is a good place to do business
“I have often seen those expanding into Milton Keynes start with a distribution centre, then some light engineering, occasionally manufacturing or assembly operations will follow. However, more than 40 per cent of businesses here are on the cutting-edge of knowledge-based sectors such as technology, finance, publishing, research and development (R&D) and culture/leisure.
“And we have quite a few American companies coming here who see the UK as a good base,” says Eames citing Rockwell and EDS which became part of Hewlett Packard as examples of US companies which moved to Milton Keynes. WD-40, lists Milton Keynes as its European headquarters.
Another large development in progress is Network Rail, which is building one of its regional centres in Milton Keynes.
“More than 3,000 people will be based at The Quadrant:MK, which will include new employment when it opens next summer,” confirms Eames, who adds that it will also encourage many more people to move to a town that is already proving popular due to excellent facilities on offer. Education in Milton Keynes scores particularly highly with young families as a location noted for its newly built, technology-led schools.
In terms of sectors, Milton Keynes pioneered and once boasted the largest shopping mall in the country. While it suffered along with the rest of the UK with the downturn of 2008, the central precinct and outlying retail parks are bouncing back, often with up-and-coming brands.
Also showing good growth prospects are the hospitality, leisure, travel and tourism industries. According to Eames, planned developments include a brand new Center Parcs which will border Woburn Abbey and open in two years’ time. This will not only provide more employment opportunities, but will boost many sectors of the local economy with an expected steady influx of tourists each year.
It’s this sort of growth that lends weight to the firmly held belief that Milton Keynes will become one of the UK’s largest cities by 2031. However, this ambition is not without its challenges. The town’s pace of renewing and developing its infrastructure to support a doubling of its population over the next 15 years, was running ahead of requirements until the recession hit in 2008.
But as Eames reminds us, “It’s a question of trying to balance up the opportunities presented by its popularity as a centre of excellence for business, with the inevitable growth in population as people are drawn to it as a place to live and work.”
*Names in italics are establishments or firms that Mazars has a business relationship with.
Milton Keynes earned its nickname, the Networking Capital, some years ago. One of the very first networking events in the city was called the Concrete Cattlemen’s Club, which is still running today. “Even back then people were keen to join together and make the most of what Milton Keynes has to offer. It’s typical of the ‘can do’ attitude here,” confirms Eames.
Neither are the town’s business and professional communities going to let a matter of the worst economic recession in living memory get in the way of this ‘can do’ style of thinking. Invest Milton Keynes, an agency now owned and run by the town’s council, is typical of the type of support that exists to help businesses. It’s a strategy that works with confirmed investment projects amounting to at least £1bn currently underway in Milton Keynes. City-status bid champion and Councillor Debbie Brock insists that Milton Keynes is a city in all but name to the many thousands of people who live and work here.
The business community has also banded together to support and encourage business. “There’s a surprising number of co-operative meetings and alliances formed between what you would expect to be natural competitors,” comments Eames. “The reason being is that people know if you encourage more investment and business deals and encourage people to find ways to get into new markets, it will be for the benefit of everyone.”