Wednesday 10 June 2020 1:46 pm

Why the businesses of the future are honing in on Cornwall

Kim Conchie is chief executive of the Cornwall Chamber of Commerce

Six months into a new decade, the working landscape has altered beyond recognition. 

Businesses around the world have adapted to remote working with a scale and ease beyond wildest expectations. “Working from home” has cast off any of the negative connotations attached to it, with workers in fields ranging from banking to surveying, media to insurance, all demonstrating they are able to function remotely at near full capacity. 

And when the pandemic subsides, these new ways of working brought swiftly upon us by Covid-19 will level up places like Cornwall. After years of half-hearted government intervention, this goal will finally be achieved thanks to market factors and people’s desire for a better life. 

Underneath short-term worries about Cornwall and Scilly’s hospitality, leisure and culture businesses, there is growing understanding that this crisis is catapulting business behaviour and sparking investor interest in new sustainable, purpose-driven sectors.

This will play to the Duchy’s strengths in a way that nothing has done since Cornwall led the world in tin-mining. 

The crisis has shone a fresh spotlight on Cornwall’s industries — like renewable energy, food and drink, sustainable tourism, satellites and big data. These were on the peripheries of national commerce, but are now on a level playing field with businesses in our big cities.

Combine that with the shift towards remote working for the past 12 weeks — and with the recognition that businesses with purpose, dedication and a stable workforce add investor value — and you will understand why Cornwall’s self-esteem is growing.

Then there is life here. We don’t call it work-life balance. It’s just life — of which smart, conscientious, collaborative work is a massive part, alongside outdoor healthy leisure, culture, home, relationships, and fun. 

At the end of 2019, research from Oxford University’s Said Business School found that happy workers are 13 per cent more productive. Cornish life is therefore able to offer enormous benefits to both businesses based here and to remote workers.

For decades, we have seen a brain drain from UK regions like Cornwall, with some of the brightest minds leaving the county to work in industries only found in the nation’s big cities. Now, we have a way to reverse that.

Not only will remote working allow people to stay in Cornwall, contributing to the local economy while flourishing in their dream job, but it will create a brain gain of workers in industries such as finance and technology who can now relocate, which will have a positive impact on levelling-up wages. 

Remote working will allow businesses in cities to tap into a more geographically diverse, happier and ultimately more productive workforce. 

Moreover, the dynamic funding landscape that we have in Cornwall will be bolstered by a new wave of city workers coming to live and work remotely in the county. In 2018, the British Business Bank established its third UK fund in Cornwall & Scilly. Forward-thinking businesses led by increasingly confident entrepreneurs are keen to talk growth plans. 

These innovators are in sectors that sit very comfortably with the Cornish psyche and offer new opportunities for inward investors wishing to balance their portfolios with clean and green high-growth potential stock. In renewable energy alone, Cornwall has the best access to prevailing winds, the most hours of sunshine, 300 miles of coastline (and a plug-in wave hub already in place when offshore wind technology catches up), 60 per cent of the UK’s geothermal potential, plus lithium and other rare earth minerals from the same geology that provided the tin first time round. 

We are leading proponents of community energy production, energy storage and measurement. Add to this opportunities to work for and invest in world-class hotels, the best fish, cheese, cream, ice cream, beer, methode champenoise wine, 25 gin distilleries, and more cider, mixers and soft drinks than you can shake a blender at. 

Oh, and if things go according to plan, Virgin Orbit will be setting up the first small-satellite horizontal take-off spaceport in Europe on the site of Cornwall Airport, attracting a huge range of downstream suppliers and inspiring our youth.

But there’s something more: an otherness, a Celtic spirituality which in itself is uplifting but, combined with productive home-workers and the business opportunities here, will enable Cornwall to nurture both the people and the sustainable industries of the twenty-first century.

Yes, the next 100 days are going to be tough. But Cornwall and Scilly can offer life and growth opportunities for the next 100 years. 

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