Advanced Materials & Manufacturing
A smart move
When Spanish train manufacturer CAF decided to build a major new assembly plant, it looked at more than 100 potential sites throughout the UK. The clear winner was Newport in South Wales.
“What’s important is infrastructure, transport links, access to local labour, a positive attitude from government – things that will be key parts of your presence in the area well after any funding has ended.” says Graham Taylor, Chief Operating Officer of CAF Rolling Stock UK.
On this score, Newport and Wales provided everything CAF needed. “We were very pleased about the availability of suitable skilled labour, and our recruitment went even better than expected,” he says. “Now that we’re established, we’ll continue to grow and need additional staff – and the South Wales economy has engineering in its DNA.”
Production at Newport began in September 2018, with the plant building up a workforce of more than 300 people. They will be kept busy: the first order received is for the construction of 180 new vehicles for the Wales and Borders rail franchise, Transport for Wales.
Good transport links were obviously vital, including easy access to the UK’s national rail network. “This was one of our key criteria, and the Welsh Government’s commitment to developing a new station at nearby Llanwern will give us even better access. The removal of tolls on the Severn Bridge means people living in Bristol are more open to us as potential employees.”
CAF’s whole experience has been that Wales is investment-ready. “The Welsh Government have demonstrated very strongly that they have an environment that’s open, and they’ve continued to engage with us,” says Taylor.
“We’re essentially becoming a hub, and I’ve been working closely with government on how we can attract tier-one suppliers. Gathering a supply chain around us that will provide more value into the local economy will be great for everybody – and the politicians and civil servants have been working hard to make that happen.”
Business intelligence firm Pageant Media opened an office in Cardiff in May 2017, which now employs around 40 people. General manager Emma Cheetham says: “We chose to relocate to Wales due to the skilled labour market created by having a Russell Group university within two miles of the office, as well as having an engaged and supportive government and lower operating costs.
“We were offered support from the Welsh Assembly, who introduced us to the city and showed us different business areas, recruiters and university contacts. Our office is now based in one of the first options their real-estate agent introduced us to. We’ve also received funding from them to help with operating costs.”
It’s an opinion echoed by Joanna Swash, managing director of outsourced communications provider Moneypenny. Founded in Wrexham in 2000, the company employs about 650 people at its £15million headquarters – a remarkable building with treehouse meeting rooms, a village-style pub for employees and seven acres of grounds, opened by the Prince of Wales in 2017.
“We wanted to find somewhere semi-rural because this was important to our staff,” Swash explains. “We eventually found the ideal location near Wrexham Hospital. To finance this newbuild, the Welsh government helped us dispose of our old offices so we could free up cash. We’ve found them very open-minded, and they’ve done everything they can to support our ambitious growth plans.”
Swash is equally taken with the Welsh workforce – and not just because she is Welsh herself. “People here have a fantastic attitude and are wonderfully professional, with a great work ethic. We’re the largest private employer in Wrexham and we receive 3,000 CVs each year, so we can choose the very best.
“The road links to Chester, Manchester and Liverpool are excellent, too, and we’re well served by trains to London, Scotland and beyond. We’re also excited to hear there are plans to make Wrexham a transport hub.
“Where else would you find such a great place to work, with affordable rent, beautiful countryside, people with a great attitude, and excellent transport links? We’d recommend Wales to anyone looking to set up a business.”