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Business leader’s plea to make Birmingham a talent magnet and defeat ‘ugly city-horrid accent’ myth

🕔21.Oct 2013

Birmingham must do more to erase an unfair reputation that it is an “ugly city full of poorly educated people with horrible accents and nothing to offer”, a leading business figure has demanded.

Phil Riley, chief executive of Orion Media, said “clichéd beliefs” about Birmingham “couldn’t be further from the truth” but shifting public opinion remained a key strategic task for city leaders.

Mr Riley was presenting the RAB econometric analysis at the new Library of Birmingham.

He gave a positive forecast of economic recovery, although warned that the scale of the downturn had been so great that only half of UK wealth has been recovered since recession and the credit crunch hit home in 2008.

Mr Riley became the latest in a long line of business leaders to urge Birmingham to concentrate on keeping “home grown talent” by making sure that university students want to live and work in the city when they graduate.

He gave the example of Detroit, which has faced soaring unemployment and deprivation following the collapse of the car industry. The American city is promoting itself as a “talent magnet”.

Michigan Future thinktank leader Lou Glazer was quoted recently in the Birmingham Post: “We have come to the conclusion that the places with the greatest concentration of talent are the places that are doing best today and will be the places doing the best going forward.

“A lot of people think of the knowledge economy as high technology in focus, but this turns out to be way too narrow a definition. The focus for the US Knowledge Economy is around the education; healthcare; financial professional and business services and information, media, IT and communications sectors. It is this broad set of sectors that are driving the US economy today.

“One of the things we’ve learned in doing this work is that what matters in economic terms is not where you go to school but you where live and work after you graduate. Increasingly, at least in the US, young talent, that is before they have had families, is moving and is the most mobile talent.”

Mr Riley urged his audience not to fall into the trap of thinking Birmingham had not progressed, pointing to a “decade of transformation” that included development of Millennium Point, Eastside, the Bullring, the Cube, Edgbaston cricket ground, the QE Hospital and the new Library of Birmingham.

However, significant problems remained with the West Midlands economy under-performing and gross disposable household income among the lowest in England.

Mr Riley’s full speech can be found here.

Cover Image: Radio Academy

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