Thriving Swedish business community in the Midlands

1 February 2024

The Midlands is at the forefront of areas such as automotive and logistics, industrial digitalisation, as well as life sciences. With a long industrial heritage and history of innovation in transport, the Midlands has a clear advantage in future mobility initiatives, creating plenty of opportunities for businesses to thrive in the region. We caught up with Susan Simpson, Real Estate Partner at SCC member Fieldfisher, and SCC Midlands Chapter Chair, to discuss the growing Swedish business community in the Midlands and the incentives for companies to establish in the region.  

"What I’ve always really liked about working with Swedish companies is that they have a very forward-thinking attitude. They are not just driven by profits but are very much driven by doing the right thing, and exploring what the opportunities are to make this in a more sustainable and efficient way.”

Susan Simpson, Real Estate Partner at Fieldfisher, holds over 20 years of experience of acting for developers and landowners in relation to both residential and commercial development across the UK. Susan first made contact with the Swedish Chamber through one of her clients, SCC patron Skanska. “I’ve worked very closely with Skanska on a number of projects for over 15 years. It was through working with them on their development projects, that I particularly got to know the Swedish market,” she explains. “Me and one of the other partners started to go to Sweden, where we got to know about the Chamber in Sweden and were told that there is a very active Swedish Chamber in the UK. So, we got involved in the Swedish Chamber of Commerce for the UK in about 2007.”

The most well-connected region
Birmingham is the second largest city in the UK and the financial centre of the West Midlands. According to a recent review issued by the Birmingham University in partnership with the Birmingham and West Midlands Chambers, the region attracted the largest share of foreign direct investment outside of London in 2022. With the High Speed 2 railway coming in and a huge amount of work happening in the Midlands’ road network, Susan says that the connectivity offers increased opportunities for businesses looking to establish in the region. “The Midlands is by far the most connected place in the whole of the UK, whether it’s by road or rail. It creates an opportunity for businesses in the region to have access to the whole country and to the whole of Europe, all basically within two hours.”

Growing Swedish business community
The Chamber’s recent business footprint report revealed that 87 Swedish businesses alone are employing almost 7,000 people in the West Midlands, and another 3,300 in the East Midlands. Wanting to support the growing Swedish business community in the region, Susan recently took on the role as the Chamber’s Chapter Chair for the Midlands. “I was really keen to get something happening in the Midlands. The Chamber has clearly done its research on the footprint of Swedish businesses, and it was clear that there were a lot of Swedish businesses here. I really wanted to spread the news of this because I think it’s good for people to have a forum and explore things that they have in common, to then help the businesses expand,” she says and continues: “It’s definitely a place that’s growing, and it seems like it would be a great place for the Swedish Chamber to be better represented, and to start pulling those things together.”

Creating a platform in the region
The Chamber’s recent event in Birmingham attracted a full house of guests as they were invited to look deeper into the Swedish business footprint in the West Midlands. “The thing that surprised me when we did the event was that there were all these amazing Swedish businesses that nobody had ever heard of. They’re clearly very well integrated into the Midlands community, but in a very understated way.”

Susan believes that the results from the business footprint survey are really only scratching the surface of the presence of Swedish businesses in the region. “I think that actually, there are a lot of Swedish businesses here. It’s good to highlight that to the businesses so that they interact a bit more and get more of an awareness of what everybody’s doing in the region. And really, use that as a platform to get to know other businesses better.” 

Opportunities for business
For businesses that are looking to establish in the Midlands, there is a lot of support available, not least through the Department of Business and Trade, and the West Midlands Growth Company. And for people recruiting, it is, according to Susan, a great place to be. “The Midlands has one of the youngest populations in Europe, and the largest number of engineers in the UK. There are a number of universities that people can recruit from, or ally with for research and development.”

Looking at the main opportunities for business, Susan mentions three key sectors to look out for. “The Midlands is a world-leading automotive hub. If you’re doing anything automotive related, you really need to be here. When Polestar decided to locate in the West Midlands, it was because of the world-leading engineers. And for logistics, it’s a great centre. Einride chose the Midlands for the existing road networks and because the power supplies in the Midlands are the best. It’s easier to set up electric networks around this area.” 

On the Life Sciences side, Susan says that Birmingham is very much leading the way with the use of data in diagnostics, and for Creative Industries that need big spaces for their studios, the land values are comparatively cheaper in the region. “If you’re doing anything that involves taking space, the West Midlands is probably about half the price of the rest of the UK.”

Drawing synergies from both cultures
According to Susan, there is great potential for Swedish and British businesses to collaborate and draw synergies from their respective cultures, something that became very clear at the recent event. “It was just incredible how innovative the Swedish businesses were. They clearly approach problems in a different way to conventional UK businesses, and that bringing together those two different cultures and thought processes is a very successful combination.” 

See photos from the Business Footprint event in the West Midlands


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