Birmingham Made Me Design Expo launches with plea to ‘CLAIM OUR CAPITAL’

Birmingham Made Me Design Expo launches with plea to –

Beverley Nielsen’s observations on discussions to-date….plus link to BBC Midlands coverage of Expo launch

Four days into policy seminars at the 2013 Birmingham Made Me Design Expo and the links between designing effective regional economies and the implementation of design-driven innovation within leading Midlands businesses have been stressed.

As Professor John Bryson, University of Birmingham, put it on the opening day, “Companies harnessing design are more competitive. All the studies show this. If anyone can name me a study that does not, then I’d like to know,” he added.

Andrew Carter, Deputy Chief Executive, Centre for Cities, said, “It turns out geography matters more in modern economies, not less. Workers in cities are 10% more productive, partly because they’re in places where people can share ideas, innovation and new purpose more easily.”

To get the full benefit from this a networked ‘hub and spoke’ approach needed to be developed, clearly recognising Birmingham as being at the hub of a network extending across the Midlands and encouraging access to and the exchange of ideas ‘wherever they were generated’.

Five key lessons were emerging, he stated. We needed to tilt the policy playing field towards cities with national government giving preference to them over other places; to be open to ideas wherever they originated; to have an ‘unrelenting obsession’ with education; to develop a physical environment which encouraged interactions and that prioritised ‘enjoyment’ for people living and working in these cities.

Professor Chris O’Neil, Executive Dean, the Birmingham Institute of Art & Design, congratulated the West Midlands LEPs present at the Design Expo for a discussion on cross LEP collaboration chaired by Jerry Blackett, who had, “clearly recognised the need to develop a ‘hub and spoke’ system with Birmingham as the region’s hub.” He said, “It is time for the Midlands to claim Birmingham as its capital. For too long the region has been divided between East and West. The only feasible way for the greater region to drive forward its prospects in a serious way is to recognise the need for a hub and spoke system, taking on board both regional and local strategic priorities and placing Birmingham at its heart.”

Having previously worked in Wales Professor O’Neil highlighted the economic boost there that followed devolution and the abandonment of their former ‘ABC approach’ or ‘Anywhere But Cardiff’.  The Welsh Assembly, by taking the lead in claiming Cardiff as their capital City as part of, what Professor O’Neil termed a, ‘sensible economic unit’, had been a key step for the principality, he asserted.

In launching the Design Expo Sir Albert Bore, Birmingham City Council Leader, asked us to raise our aspirations. “Birmingham should not been seen as a second city,” he suggested. “Frankfurt do not see us as that, but as a global competitive player. We need clear vision and leadership. This is what Pascale Maragall, former Mayor of Barcelona said to me when we met some years back. Words I took to heart.”

“We have a track record second to none,” he added. In launching the 2013 Birmingham Made Me Design Expo celebrating Midlands brands he borrowed from Monty Python, asking, ‘What’s Birmingham ever done for the world?’ reminding us of some notable world firsts including – “The industrial revolution, Arts & Crafts, more lifestyle brands – created and made in our region than anywhere else in the UK, as we can see here at Millennium Point.”

Professor O’Neil stated, “We need to promote ourselves as ‘the Original Design City,‘ which is exactly what we are. As a city and region we are an ‘exquisite collision in action,’ to deliberately misquote Duchamp – a place where arts, science and technology will support and be supported by manufacturing and commerce. If we embrace the principle of the region we can drive the UK’s industrial renaissance.”

In stressing the importance of a place’s identity in promoting product character as well as a firm’s ability to ‘blend Place-based Expertise’ relying on bringing together different types of expertise to create value Professor Bryson explained, “Product character is an intangible asset developed through a combination of the place where products are designed, the people making them a product’s heritage, any named designers or registered IP involved.” All of this could lead to product inimitability created through place-based expertise.

Developing this point Marek Reichman, Design Director, Aston Martin, celebrating their centenary this year, and Chairman, 2013 Birmingham Made Me, said, “Pride of place is so important. The place where you work is very important. People working are coming to enjoy a place. Without passionate people you can’t create great design.”

He spoke about Aston Martin’s core values of Power, Beauty and Soul, saying, “Soul is about heritage.  Heritage and depth of knowledge create soul in design.  Not in a retrospective way, but by providing the depth and meaning to inspire something for the next 100 years. What is cool? Something that is original, authentic, unique – it’s all about nuances, story, mystique.” He suggested one way to generate a global brand was to team up with another one.

To do this Kurt Jacobs, Editor, Midlands Insider, proposed that we needed to tell more stories about the people and businesses transforming our city and region’s fortunes.  He spoke about the need to construct an image that was built on reality and that Birmingham’s reality was one of manufacturing. “We are good at designing and making things that people want, that make people’s lives happier, that make their lives better. For too long we have turned our back on what has been our greatest asset.

“When people see an Aston Martin in James Bond or read and AGA saga they don’t associate them with this region, but with a sophisticated lifestyle they imagine a world away from Birmingham. And we can do that not only by promoting the brands but by telling the stories, the narratives behind them.

“So when we speak of AGA let’s not allow people to think of the Cotswolds, but of being made on the same site where Abraham Darby first smelted iron ore with coke…of Joseph Priestley not only discovering oxygen but also inventing the fizzy drink. Of Frank Whittle creating the jet engine that changed the way in which we view and travel the world.”
Sebastian Olma, founder, Serendipity Machine, emphasised the need for cities to find their identity with economies creating systems of value based on knowledge, creativity and ideas including serendipitous encounters between people. “This means you need to understand your urban fabric; encounter and embrace unexpected outcomes. Subcultures have been an important part of the Amsterdam experience,” he added.

Anke Merkl-Rachbauer joining us from Linz, Austria, where she advised the Upper Austrian Development Agency, stated that for them Foreign Direct Investment was not the key focus.  They had found prioritising an 80/20 split between investing in indigenous companies and attracting overseas businesses had been beneficial to economic growth. By adopting this approach and working in a collaborative partnership involving 3 cities, Chambers of Commerce and Industry and 50 experts, they had developed a ‘triple helix’ programme involving universities, business and local government partners looking at R&D, education and location.  From ’91, she claimed, they had seen +23% employment growth, +28% export growth and +16% R&D spend with 29% Austrian patents filed within their region.

Professor Birgitte Andersen, Director, the Big Innovation Centre stressed, “In the UK the whole is not amounting to the sum of the parts. We have a trade gap, we have falling productivity and no substantive growth. Ideas, credit and innovation does not flow within the national network.

“Credit flows are weak. Only 1% of bank assets are funding innovation ideas and only 0.6% into innovative sectors. There is a systemmic coordination failure. How can we get big companies acting as catalysts for smaller companies?A new paradigm shift has taken place and yes, this has meant a shift in language, in systems, in open innovation to enable a flow of credit and ideas. With that we need to transform Birmingham and the Midlands into an innovation hub.”

In chairing a debate with MPs John Spellar, Richard Burden and Lorely Burt including business people Lucan Gray and Simon Topman and Dr Steve McCabe of Birmingham City Business School, on ‘Regional Economic Sustainable Models,’ Tim Finch, Communications Director, IPPR, brought out in discussion a comparison between the German mittelstand and medium-sized businesses (MSBs) operating in the Midlands.

It was noted that the mittelstand had thrived in a system of Federal regional government with developed systems of finance, capital flows and notions of both strong regional identity and place. This was seen as particularly relevant given CBI reports suggesting the economic potential of MSBs which, if harnessed properly, could, it was estimated, generate an additional £50bn value added for the UK economy.

For further Birmingham Made Me blogs by Dr Steve McCabe visit