Great connections to London in a cheaper, more picturesque environment are among the reasons campaigners are using to lure digital companies away from the capital’s Tech City to east Kent.
Scores of businesses from the creative and technology industries heard about the positives of relocating to the area at the Grow For It conference in Canary Wharf today.
The emergence of east Kent’s own cluster of firms in the sector was highlighted as proof the region is open for business, backed up by figures showing small companies grew by 5% in 2011/12, despite the backdrop of a recession.
Entrepreneur and social scientist Charles Armstrong says tech companies in east Kent showed resilience during the recession
Canterbury was highlighted as at the forefront of the tech revolution, closely followed by Ramsgate and then Folkestone.
The ability for firms to travel into London in less than an hour via High Speed 1 was a key factor in the argument to get firms to move to the area.
As rent prices in Tech City soar, the availability of cheap offices and shared working spaces in east Kent was also pointed out as a reason to up sticks and head to the Garden of England.
“It is clearly the beginning of something there,” said entrepreneur and social scientist Charles Armstrong, who founded shared work space the Trampery in Shoreditch in 2009, and advises the government on technology policy.
“We are talking about just over 1,000 businesses but the initial signs are promising for the future and it’s clear that several towns are emerging as the hotspots.
Angel investor Dale Murray, centre, speaking alongside Jude Ower of Playmob and Sleeping Giant Media founder Luke Quilter
“The rate of business formations across technology and the creative industries has increased by 400% over the last 10 years in east Kent. That is way above the national average.
“The revenues for those businesses – which are typically small, employing one, two or three people – grew by 5% per year during the worst years of the recession, so something very resilient is happening there.
“Through that same period those businesses increased employment by 20% while employment was declining across the UK as a whole.”
Folkestone and Hythe MP Damian Collins helped found the Grow For It campaign last year with KCC, with the aim of getting more firms to move to the area.
He said: “People may have been surprised at the number of digital businesses we have got and the number of emerging clusters. I hope they think seriously about doing business in east Kent.
KCC leader Paul Carter addresses the conference
“There is great quality of life to living in east Kent. The cost of setting up a business and living is lower and there is great proximity to Europe and you are within striking distance of London.
“Also, a lot of these tech entrepreneurs are not the type of people who want to be stuck in an office block all day.
"They want to be stimulated in a creative environment and that’s what we can offer.”
KCC leader Paul Carter – the first speaker of the day at Level 39 in One Canada Square – said: “It has really put east Kent on the map. I think they [London tech firms] have been enormously impressed with some of the unique situations we have going on in east Kent and how they can connect with it.”