By Dominic Ryan
Considered by many as the geographical and historical heart of Scotland, Perthshire is an enchanting region, boasting a distinctive natural beauty and a wealth of visitor attractions.
Also known as Big Tree Country, it offers mile upon mile of beautiful countryside to explore. En route you will pass dramatic castles, enduring monuments of Perthshire’s regal past.
Grand cathedrals also stand resolute on the skyline, among them Dunkeld Cathedral, whose origins go back 1400 years to the time Celtic monks first set up their mission where the River Braan joins the River Tay.
And at the heart of it all is the grand city of Perth itself.
Once Scotland’s capital, ‘The Fair City’, with its majestic spires on the banks of the River Tay inspired Sir Walter Scott to write The Fair Maid of Perth, which in turn gave birth to the opera by Georges Bizet.
With such a rich and renowned history, Perth has been able to use its solid foundations to launch itself boldly into the future.
In fact, today Perth can be considered an incredibly dynamic force for new business.
Balancing the carefully preserved characteristics of its historic centre with the unique beauty of its surroundings, it has a projected population growth of 25% by 2030 – one of the fastest growing in Scotland.
The City region also has one of the highest Gross Value Added (GVA) figures per resident, at £43,300.
This, with an acknowledged higher quality of living in a strategic location at the heart of Scotland’s road and rail networks, means the city is the obvious choice for business relocation and investment.
Not that the city is resting on it laurels: there are long-term plans in place to invest even more in infrastructure to encourage smart growth.
Over the next 15 to 20 years, this will help create a city that encourages business and innovation, yet protects the environment and promotes social cohesion.
Such an ambitious programme requires inward investment and Perth is already working hard – and successfully – to make itself an attractive proposition for foreign investors.
Indeed, while many cities claim to be ‘a great place to do business’, Perth is happily demonstrating this – for instance by having a five-year business survival rate consistently higher than the Scottish and UK average.
Much of this success can be put down to Perth’s enviable ability to combine liveability and a high quality of living with a worldwide reputation for competitiveness.
As in all great business locations, this begins by establishing a foundation of talented and skilled people.
It’s no surprise to learn, then, that 61.5% of local residents are qualified to degree level, compared to the UK average of only 28.5%.
The city is home to the largest campus of the University of the Highlands & Islands (UHI), which is a vibrant epicentre of higher learning for more than 9000 students.
Indeed, UHI enjoys a solid reputation for excellence in teaching and niche research strengths – which explains how it is able to attract such a cosmopolitan population of high-calibre first degree and graduate students.
Perth is also within an hour’s drive of seven of the UK’s top research universities and has one of the highest percentages of graduates in the workforce of any Scottish city.
Now factor in that Perth is also one of the UK’s leading cities for digital connectivity, with almost 100% of premises having access to superfast broadband and 89% to ultrafast broadband, and we see the talent and infrastructure is in place for a strong, knowledge-based economy that can harness the ready availability of a skilled workforce.
This without doubt explains the presence of several corporate headquarters in Perth, including energy giant SSE, Aviva, Stagecoach and Highland Spring.
With significant strengths in the fast-growing sectors of food and drink, tourism and clean technology, in particular, this also sees Perth primed and ready for significant international investment opportunities, supported by the city council’s tailored “open for business” approach.
To help facilitate this, more than £50 million planned investment is to be put in place for cultural and leisure facilities within the next five years. Around £400 million worth of major investment opportunities will also be available.
This will involve new hotels and conference facilities, making Perth the first choice for business visitors.
This same vision envisages a core group of blue-chip companies will provide the foundation for Perth’s prosperity, together with fast-growing SMEs – international businesses and leaders in science, technology and creativity.
Business tourism, in particular, is a priority and has been identified in the Perth City Plan 2016-2035.
The region already boasts one of Scotland’s strongest tourism sectors, with approximately two million visitors arriving every year – and 600,000 of those coming to the city itself, generating revenue of more than £400 million.
A mixture of established world-class resorts, visitor attractions, outdoor activities and leisure pursuits help drive this year-round tourism.
Thanks to recent and committed investment in facilities, the sector is well placed for further growth – thereby making the area an extremely attractive proposition for investment in new accommodation and leisure-related products.
Of course, not all the focus is on the city centre. The region was recently awarded £3.8 million in LEADER funding in order to help support rural communities and small enterprise endeavours.
Moreover, as a central location with unrivalled connectivity via excellent road, rail and air links, Perth is a natural hub for business opportunities that can take advantage of the city’s infrastructure yet also reach much further afield.
In a business world that can often seem dominated by the huge metropolis, Perth is a pioneer and leader among those attractive and tirelessly enterprising small cities making a name for themselves globally.
A taste of endeavor from food and drink sector
The retail industry is hugely important in Perth, a city that offers distinctive opportunities to retailers.
The proposed growth of this sector will supplement a current retail catchment population of 338,000, who live within a half hour drive time of the city centre and provide estimated core catchment expenditure of £631 million every year. A major boost to boost Perth’s mission to attract inward investment is being a member of the Scottish Cities Alliance (SCA).
This group works to maximise the contribution of cities to Scotland’s future economic growth by providing digital and transport infrastructure.
It also helps identify development opportunities, while securing investment and developing new funding models.
Perth loves its food and drink, with more places to dine out per head of population than any other Scottish city.
With such a healthy appetite it’s no surprise the region is also one of Scotland’s leading areas for the food and drink industry, with an annual turnover of £310 million and an estimated 130 companies operating in the processing sector.
In fact, food and drink is one of Scotland’s key growth sectors with ambitions to grow from £13.1 billion today to £16.5 billion by 2017.
Among the facilities already helping to boost the sector in the city is Perth Food and Drink Park. This provides serviced development land and business support facilities, with 25 hectares of serviced development plots.
Services are available on or close to each development plot – such as utilities, telecoms and superfast broadband – while financial incentives for new investment and a fast-track planning service also available.