February editor’s letter: And they’re off!

Jane Gray introduces the February issue of TM with some views on the business environment, bank lending, industrial community and the EEF National Manufacturing Conference 2014.

Jane Gray, Editor, The Manufacturer magazine

The coming of the New Year sounded a starting pistol for business. January felt like being part of a frenzied land rush as firms put faith in the stabilising economy and grasped hold of opportunities.

Reports of business vibrancy have come from all stakeholders.

Business owners, banks, trade bodies and  government. They have all approached with news of big orders and new projects. From the finance world came confirmation that requests for investment support sky rocketed – most encouragingly, there has been a notable increase in enquires to support capital investment, according to our sources.

It is crucial now that the banks respond to those enquiries with funding propositions which make sense to manufacturers. They must show they have spent the recession re-educating themselves about what manufacturing businesses need.

In an interview with James Pozzi last month, Mark Eastwood, head of manufacturing at NatWest, assured that product innovation is taking place (bit.ly/MarkEastwood). And NatWest’s relationship managers around the country certainly sharpened their understanding of manufacturing in January as ’s Nick Hussey and Henry Anson toured the regions with presentations to clarify what a competitive industrial base in the UK should look like – its needs and its potential.

Making sure that manufacturers, whether they need finance or not (midsized firms are sitting on £800bn), are able to make good on their investment intentions is crucial if we are to make this new found optimism count in the long term.

Strategic investments in manufacturing technologies, as well as skills and innovation, are fundamental to increasing UK productivity, prosperity and competitiveness.

At EEF’s National Manufacturing Conference on March 4, investigation of the “productivity puzzle” will underpin discussion of reshoring and export growth. It promises to be a provocative day led by some engaging industry figures, and with the ear of government, it’s an important platform to be on.

Seeing and being seen. Networking can sometimes seem like a distraction to business leaders. But as Paul Everitt pointed out at ADS’ Annual Dinner at the end of last month, robust communication lies at the heart of competiveness – and this includes communication with all stakeholders in the business and industrial community – not just with your supply chain.

The huge competitive potential of becoming a better networked, connected industrial community was the topic for debate at the recent thought leadership dinner I attended in Cambridge with analyst firm Cambashi.

Delegates there were serious about unlocking the value of business ecosystems. This is a complex challenge and one which will require open mindedness they found, but there was real excitement about the idea of revisiting competitive propositions and formulating new operational infrastructures to support them.

Such ambition is of a piece with the movement towards servitization, the Internet of Things and the flexible factories of Industry 4.0. Expect to hear more about them all in 2014.