Simon Pringle, a highly experienced economic development specialist, joined the Steer consultancy just over 18 months ago. His mission was to create a new, dynamic business known as Steer Economic Development, which would sit alongside Steer’s existing business lines. We asked Simon Pringle to reflect on his first year and a half as Head of Steer Economic Development.
As boundaries breakdown between economic domains, new and exciting opportunities for diversification are coming into view. Steer Economic Development is the result of how these opportunities are being taken, building on Steer’s existing expertise and knowledge to co-create new areas of competence and new business offers.
We realised that our long-standing expertise in transport can be enhanced by integrating broader areas of the economy. It’s increasingly important to have a system-wide review of what’s broken in our underperforming economies, and to address it, a complete economic development solution. Innovation, skills, enterprise, and infrastructures, including transport, all play a part.
Simon began work on building Steer Economic Development at the back end of 2016, fresh from leading the Independent Economic Review of the UK’s Northern Powerhouse. A year later, he had built a ten-strong team with a wide range of overlapping and complementary capabilities in science and technology, skills, enterprise and competitiveness.
Simon is now looking to double the size the business by the end of 2018. The new business offers an integrated service to a widening portfolio of new clients, including universities, research councils, local and city authorities, and the private sector, and adds value for Steer’s existing clients. Simon describes how, in difficult market conditions in a climate of austerity, the team faced ‘start-up challenges’.
In particular, Steer’s strong 40-year history of specialising in the transport sector created a ‘dynamic opportunity’, he says, ‘as we sought to leverage Steer’s excellent reputation for quality, integrity and expertise with new skills and approaches to the challenges of 21st-century economic development. We find that our clients are not short of challenging, place-changing projects.’
Projects across the UK
In Liverpool, Steer Economic Development has been appointed to deliver the Liverpool City Region’s Science and Innovation Audit, examining how its science and innovation strengths can be augmented and developed to help its economy to compete globally in increasingly distinct ways.
In Northern Ireland, Simon and the team are delivering a project to establish the potential for taking the region’s Precision Medicine sector into global markets, with regulatory regimes, market knowledge, and ‘collaborating to compete’ all recognised as barriers to address.
In Manchester, Steer Economic Development has completed a major assessment of the wider economic benefits of direct flights from Manchester to Beijing, showing how transport connections are necessary, but not sufficient alone, for substantive and sustainable economic success.
In Greenwich, the team has developed a strategy for sustainable and inclusive economic growth, examining not only transport and hard infrastructure, but also the wider role of entrepreneurship, higher-level skills, and innovation, in an economy closely linked with the fortunes of London. ‘As Tom Peters says, good strategy is about focussing on the non-routine’.
Routes to success
Three factors have been vital to success. First, recruiting the right team, ‘an incredibly strong mix of people in a pack that really flies.’ Second, support from the Steer board: ‘being able to set-up a new business with the backing in terms of resource, shared vision,
and practical commitment has been crucial.’
Third, clarity of purpose and focus: ‘We really understand what makes for modern economic success. Make places sticky for workers and residents, build up their density so workers can change their jobs without changing their car parks, and a long-term virtuous circle of success attracting more success starts to flow.’
Simon’s team continues to grow and he wants to establish a London office by Autumn 2018. He wants to achieve similar growth to what he is achieving in the North and Midlands, to strengthen Steer Economic Development’s brand position, and to create more profit for reinvestment. ‘I want to get to the stage where we are the provider of choice for economic development services,’ he says, ‘with a growing focus on four or five areas for which we will be internationally recognised.’
Visit Steer Economic Development's website to find out more.