Economic expert Professor Phil Harris, from the University of Chester’s business school, believes the new positive mood in the country is feeding through to investment decisions.
Professor Harris, executive dean at the faculty of business, enterprise and lifelong learning, said: “I think it’s psychological. UK companies have been seeing more confidence on the high street and seeing more confidence among consumers. A lot of people had been holding back because they were just not feeling very buoyant.”
Professor Harris said the strength of the Chester economy was its diverse base.
“In other regions they have not got the same depth of businesses and it’s that depth that allows us to renew.”
Another plus factor drawing potential investors to the area was Cheshire’s ‘pleasant and green’ environment as well as the skills base of the existing workforce.
He continued: “One of the things that’s happening is that we are seeing technology businesses doing quite well and a number of businesses have an international reach. There is a lot of growth in things like petrochemicals and oil technology and the chemical industry is still the UK’s largest exporter and it’s predominantly based in our area.
“Airbus is the most advanced wing manufacturer, we have automobile manufacturers and marine engineering manufacturers and the other thing we have got is the original power generation industry at Capenhurst where we have the most advanced nuclear fuel developer. We forget just what we have got.”
Professor Harris said empty shops could create pessimism as retail steers its way through the online revolution but said Chester was better placed than many centres, given 80% of shops in towns like Middlesborough were vacant.
He pointed to the success of Cheshire Oaks and laments the fact policy-makers let Chester fall behind. He says the city must develop its own ‘distinctive provision’. He foresees the stores of the future as collection points for online orders, bespoke high end outlets and shops for essential goods.
“More thought should have gone into this a long time ago if we wanted to make sure Chester was a major retailing city,” he added.
Asked about the lower wages in Cheshire West, he said: “As you move from east to west in the county you find the western side tends to be more agricultural and there is slightly more public sector and consequently the wage trends are lower.”
He said ‘fat cat’ national headlines had also led people to believe everyone working in financial services was ‘a hedge fund speculator’ whereas in fact there were a lot of what were termed ‘middle to lower end workers’ as well.