I have been reflecting on the range of excellent conversation that took place during the recent International Week. Of particular interest was Scotland’s position as a leading destination for inward investment.
We know Scotland has an enviable position in attracting inward investment, and one we should be proud of. When I speak with government officials and businesses in other countries, they always tell me that they look on with envy at our inward investment performance and the support our foreign owned and indigenous businesses receive from government.
Our success is built on being a country with an international outlook and a rich talent pool of thinkers and workers. We are pioneers in many industries. We work hard. We have modern skills. We have good transportation links. We have competitive operating costs. And we are a very welcoming landing spot for UK and European markets.
However, you could argue those strengths are relevant to most other parts of the UK and many other European destinations who compete with us. Would they say any different? What is the edge we have had when investors choose Scotland? I think there are three that appear particularly important in the current climate:
Many investors have historically seen us a good location to enter or support the wider UK and European markets
Scotland is a fairly small country that can get key people from government and industry around a table quickly to tackle challenges addressing any particular industry
Our higher education and research system has helped us be on the front foot of many industry disruptions
So, what next when investors don’t see the same easy route into a European marketplace, when other parts of the UK are developing smaller regional powerhouses that can bring people together and make decisions quickly and, finally, when we continue efforts to keep pace with disruption and increasing competition?
How can Scotland respond, particularly when the operational advantages of Scotland versus other locations are minimal? Two things come to mind.
A unique vision for Scotland – what is the compelling vision for Scotland that we sell to potential investors? They invest as much in our country and culture as they do in our people, equipment, bricks and mortar. What does being part of Scotland’s economic generation really mean to them, and that is different from everywhere else? What is the strong, ambitious and personal narrative that they will buy into?
Right support – our government agencies provide a lot of good information and support to potential investors, but provision of good information is not a sufficient differentiator. Businesses can find information on talent and costs of doing business readily so ‘just-in-time’ information provision is not a game-changer in terms of their decision-making processes. However, ensuring that Scotland is an option for international businesses before they are even thinking about expanding their international presence is the real prize and therefore an area of focus for government support. Once they are here, how can our government agencies really support investors to become embedded in the local and national economies to ensure that we drive out real benefits from the inward investment?
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