Punching above its weight

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Once the capital of Scotland, back in the days of when James VI was crowned King there in 1567, Stirling may now be a relatively small city in comparison to its usurper Edinburgh but it is hell bent on punching way above its population weight (circa 90,000) in terms of business. It has unashamedly built on its heritage – the Great Hall within its famous castle, the medieval church of the Holy Rude where Sunday services are still held – and combined this with the renowned canny Scottish approach to commerce.

“We have a unique offer,” says Stirling Council Chief Executive Stewart Carruth. “We are a vibrant and dynamic city set within a world-class historic environment, delivering a diverse and modern economy.”

It is a scenario that has not gone unnoticed by one major US conglomerate – International Financial Data Services (IFDS).

A joint venture between affiliates of Boston-based State Street Corporation, the world’s leading provider of services to institutional investors, and DST Systems Inc., a Kansas City, Missouri-based leading provider of shareholder accounting services and proprietary systems, IFDS chose Stirling as the base for its UK platform administration centre.

The company has just announced that it is boosting its local workforce there from 500 to 600, reinforcing its decision to select the city as a commercial base in the first instance.

Stirling may be one of the smaller cities in the Scottish Cities Alliance, but it has made a virtue of its size, manifested in its location, accessibility and connectivity, and it has responsibility for international investment promotion for the Alliance. The city then, like most others in the UK, is currently actively – and successfully – seeking to tick all the boxes to give it an advantage for foreign investment.

The city holds an ace card in that it lies at the heart of Scotland

Its highly-motivated and resolute city administration team has recently announced a masterplan involving $460 million of investment to turn Stirling into “an economic and cultural powerhouse.” The primary objective is to provide the infrastructure needed to become a global digital hub, followed by a knowledge hub, both of which will help underpin the city’s growth in its increasingly buoyant financial sector along with its mature tourism and food and drink sectors.

Johanna Boyd, Leader of Stirling Council, says they are building on the city’s unique assets to create a place of enterprise and opportunity for all. “We are already renowned for our heritage, landscape, unrivalled transport links and talented workforce,” she says. “We want to be the destination of choice; a world leader in business and a hive of creativity, community and enterprise.”

Stirling also holds an ace card in terms of geography and global reach. Lying at the heart of Scotland, half of the country’s population is within an hour’s drive of the city. Within 45 minutes are two major international airports reaching more than 150 destinations. No Scottish city is better placed in terms of accessibility as a prime business location.

Eight of the UK’s top 100 universities are under an hour away. The city also benefits from a high level of entrepreneurial activity with around 100 more businesses per 10,000 of the population, significantly higher than the Scottish average.

Then, of course, there is the not inconsiderable cost advantage over its closest competition down the road. In terms of leasing office space alone, the past two years has seen Stirling achieve a rental of $17.70 per square foot as compared to Glasgow at $22.30 and Edinburgh at $26.

And Stirling has the advantage of being a university city with a significant talent pool to support business. The University of Stirling is a research intensive institution founded by Royal Charter in 1967. It is ranked among the top 50 universities in the world that are under 50 years old. Students come from more than 100 countries and it offers degree courses overseas in Singapore and Vietnam.

Also making a significant contribution to the local workforce is the Forth Valley College with 14,500 students, which has won a major national award for its innovation in employer engagement. Both institutions are known as centres of excellence for digital and technology skills.

The university also now finds itself playing a dual role in the city – not only providing a steady flow of graduates for local companies but also a home for cutting-edge enterprises through its Stirling University Innovation Park found in the shadow of the Wallace Monument (the William Wallace of more recent Braveheart film fame).

Here is a facility that has been playing a key role in the regeneration of both the national and local economy by providing the opportunity for companies to locate on the university campus and take full advantage of its intellectual assets. Some 50 tenants currently range from leaders in biosciences and chemical engineering to healthcare and business services. “Businesses basing themselves in Stirling will find everything they need to thrive at every stage of their journey,” insists Stuart Oliver, Stirling’s Economic Development Manager. “We may not be the capital any longer but we intend to play an increasingly key role in the Scottish economy today.”

All in all then, Stirling is a city with a rich historical past and a potentially dynamic future.