Wednesday, May 27, 2015

News: Making it: The advanced manufacturing economy in Sheffield and Rotherham

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Attracting a new global large-scale production facility, improving the ability of companies to innovate and improving connectivity are key interventions that would strengthen the first Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District, set to be created around the Sheffield-Rotherham corridor.

For Sheffield and Rotherham to develop Europe's largest research-led advanced manufacturing cluster, a strategy needs to be put in place that supports existing businesses as well as attracts new businesses; strengthens linkages in the "innovation ecosystem" and isn't limited by boundaries; and sets priorities and determine which interventions will achieve the best impacts.

In January, Bruce Katz, co-author of The Rise of Innovation Districts and director of the Metropolitan Programme at the US Brookings Institution, and Kelly Kline, economic development director of the City of Fremont, California, visited the city region to explore how the principles of an Innovation District might be relevant for the cluster of innovation in high value manufacturing concentrated in the area.

The Sheffield-Rotherham area is already home to the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) with Boeing and the wider Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP) at Waverley in Rotherham.

Recognising that high value manufacturing can be key to driving innovation, productivity and exports, civic leaders have committed to the idea of "supercharging" the advanced manufacturing cluster and the Sheffield-Rotherham Economic Corridor. A masterplan for the potential Innovation District is being produced that will be used as a bidding document for accessing monies through the Government's Growth Deal and other funding sources.

Now the influential Centre for Cities, a UK urban policy research unit, has published its commissioned paper on how the Innovation District strategy can be taken forward. The report is written by Louise McGough a policy officer at the think tank.

The paper picks out the innovation assets that have clustered in the area, from the world leading research centres at the AMRC, innovate firms based in the AMP Technology Centre, to international firms such as Rolls-Royce and Tata Steel. Whilst less dense than clustering in innovation districts that exist around business and professional financial services, a pattern of nodes and networks with anchor points was identified.

Writing after their visit, Bruce Katz and Kelly Kline, said: "A tour of Sheffield revealed the existence of an "innovation triangle" connecting the park [AMP], key companies in the broader Don Valley, and the city centre's downtown area—with its ample amenities, university campuses, and focus on creative design. To this end, the Advanced Manufacturing Park appears to be the fulcrum of a broader innovation district rather than the sum total."

Other parts of the strategy should focus on skills, building on the business-led approach to apprenticeships and upskilling at the AMRC Training Centre, whilst it is acknowledged that connectivity needs to be improved - even between the AMP and the Sheffield Business Park over the Parkway, where the AMRC is set to continue to grow.
Many Innovation Districts have urban characteristics but the report considers that the more dispersed geography of innovation and the requirements of firms in advanced manufacturing means that residential or mixed-use development would not support growth and innovation in the same way as in more densely populated city centre Innovation Districts.

To support existing businesses as well as attracting new businesses, the region will need to establish if companies on the AMP are benefiting from being located in the fledgling innovation district or simply by being in the wider Sheffield-Rotherham advanced manufacturing corridor. It is also recognised that attracting a new global large-scale production facility, or "OEM", would be a game-changer for the district, boosting jobs and economic growth by attracting further inward investment.

To strengthen linkages between innovation drivers and "cultivators" across the innovation geography, means looking closely at the AMRC and AMP and how it acts as an anchor and links with the local supply chain. The report adds that it is important to recognise that the district is not a defined area but made up of nodes, anchored at the AMP and Sheffield Business Park site and including businesses and stakeholders in the wider advanced manufacturing corridor, Sheffield city centre and Rotherham town centre.

The report concludes: "Partners should focus on building a robust evidence base to inform the vision for an Innovation District and make the case for investment, identify private sector and industry champions who can be the voice for innovation in advanced manufacturing locally, and deliver improvements that support and strengthen innovation.

"The challenge and opportunity for local partners is to support this business and innovation led cluster, and realise an ambitious vision, capitalising on what is already there."

Julie Kenny, commissioner at Rotherham Council, said: "Our work on the Innovation District is a clear example of how Rotherham and Sheffield – in collaboration with our colleagues across the rest of the city region – are equipped to take on the world in advanced manufacturing. We've already made significant strides but the involvement and endorsement of global leaders like Bruce Katz, and the increased profile that inevitably brings, can only boost our efforts.

"It's fantastic that our work is being recognised by those who know what excellence in this field really means. This can only help our efforts to translate our vision for the Innovation District into the economic growth and sustainable increase in new skilled jobs that will make the real difference to our communities."

Centre for Cities website

Images: Harworth Estates / AMRC / Bond Bryan

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