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Will Digital Districts bring real growth in Birmingham?

Written by Brett Sidaway, August 26, 2011
 | Will Digital Districts bring real growth in Birmingham?

Will Digital Districts bring real growth in Birmingham?

Birmingham City Council’s Digital Plan

Birmingham City Council’s Digital Plan is over a half a decade old now and its Digital Districts programme is almost a year old. In the light of continued economic depression it may be worth looking a whether any such scheme will make a real difference.

The overall strategy covers lots of areas – from connectivity to Digital switchover – but I want to concentrate on two areas: how the policy can affect, say, a web company in Birmingham in doing more business and how the scheme can provide other Birmingham-based business make the most of the ongoing digital revolution. Firstly, the Digital Districts Plan is attempting to provide a hub for digital organisations. For example, a Birmingham website design company will find support within the same area – even building – from related businesses, and will also find wider support in terms of access to research, marketing and business services. The company will be able to take advantage of the infrastructure – both physical and digital. This is essential for Birmingham’s digital business – web companies, games developers, media businesses etc. to stay competitive in a global community and be able to collaborate efficiently via video conferencing and hi-speed file transfer. Making full use of cloud-based programmes is also essential for businesses, especially start-ups. To this end the City Council claims it is taking a leading and pro-active role in the introduction of 4G technology. As well as benefiting business, there are social benefits via Internet Protocol TV and Telepresence and improvements to remote learning capabilities.

Where will we see changes?

The first zone is centred around Digbeth, Eastside and Birmingham Science Park where much of the current crop of digital business cluster.  However, there will also be opportunities for areas such as Tyseley, Sparkbrook and Longbridge – already home to some of Birmingham’s digital companies in its prestigious Technology Park. It’s no coincidence that these are some of Birmingham’s most deprived areas, still reeling from the loss of traditional heavy manufacturing.

What can we expect to see?

The Council’s strategy is linked with a larger social aim of bringing connectivity to a wider but less affluent population and generating ‘real jobs’ in these areas. Eastside, a 420-acre swathe of the city centre and one of Europe’s largest urban regeneration projects, is ultimately expected to offer 12,000 jobs. e-skills (Adroit, 2008) says more effective use of technology could add 3.8% to the region’s Gross Value Added over the next 5 years. These are impressive figures. The question always remains whether the amount of investment is enough and whether the closure of seeding organisations like Advantage West Midlands will damage any positive improvements made in the Birmingham area. Additionally, the plan also seeks to offer opportunities for companies to access the latest technologies in order to grow their businesses. Informal events, like Social Media Surgeries offer organisations the chance to find out more about the commerce possibilities of tools like blogs, podcasts, video and social networks. This is the opportunity – still not fully realised – to put a Birmingham digital companies in front of Birmingham’s business population. This is the chance for social media marketing to be fully explained. This is a chance for the latest technology to be given a business-focus. Without these opportunities, one of two things will happen: either business will go elsewhere [nationally and increasingly internationally] or nothing will happen, in which case business will loose their competitive advantage in a digital age. And without investment, support and guidance from the City, there is a real chance that the Birmingham’s digital company may be no more.  The Digital Districts Programme offers the chance for some critical momentum to be generated. At a time of cutbacks and cynicism, it requires strong vision and advocacy but the rewards are obvious to see in a City always renowned for its ability to turn technology into jobs. As a Birmingham based web design company we are encouraged by these plans. If you have benefited from a Local Authority’s Digital Strategy or if you have an opinion about their value, we’d welcome your comments.

Image credit – Judith

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