Grantham Journal Big Interview: ‘Why we must celebrate South Kesteven’s incredible business power’
He’s the man South Kesteven’s economic future depends on.
But Steve Bowyer does have an 25-year background in economic regeneration and a reputation for delivering it too.
He has taken the reins of InvestSK, South Kesteven District Council’s development vehicle for fulfilling its ambitions of economic transformation.
Launched in October, the body based in Grantham’s The Maltings, aims to deliver on council leader Matthew Lee’s goal of boosting the district’s economy by 40 per cent by 2040.
Titled “strategic leader” in charge of an annual £300,000 budget, Steve is tasked with helping deliver that goal, with him employing a fluctuating 12-16 staff, depending on how projects come and go. Many schemes will start in this New Year.
InvestSK combines the expertise of the council, with that of the private sector in matters of economic developmen and inward investment. Steve himself is also chief executive of Opportunity Peterborough, a similar outfit belonging to its city council, which he has led since 2006.
Steve said of his new Grantham-based role: “We work with businesses in the district. We have the support of SKDC. We help the economic growth of the area. If there’s a business that is looking to grow and expand or relocate to South Kesteven, we will pick up the work and help.”
In the months he has headed South Kesteven’s development agency, Steve has been busy touring the district, pressing the flesh, making those contacts and getting to know our business people.
Among the targets his agency faces is meeting a certain number of those economic movers and shakers, including those in rural areas such as the Rippingale Business Club.
Steve said: “Grantham, Stamford, the Deepings, Bourne, each of them have a distinctive quality. I have met businesses across the region. We have incredible innovators, global players. We have to celebrate them. We need to celebrate these stories, which will help attract new business to the area.”
He explains much work around attracting new businesses to an area stems from perception. Businesses ask themselves if they can operate in certain towns, which is why they need to hear an area’s success stories. They also need to know if they can recruit, what skills exist in an area and its training and educational opportunities. They also need to see how they can grow, if they succeed.
Steve continued: “InvestSK will help them understand the skills available, the apprenctices available for recruitment. Fundamentally, InvestSK is here to make life easier for businesses.”
Marketing and promotion will form a major part of this. Already, there is the InvestSK.co.uk website, which as well as promoting the district, contains a portal for its firms to network.
“We are looking at major promotional collateral coming out in 2018. There’s a big push on that inward investment work. There’s also a number of distinct projects like the Grantham cinema, along with redeveloping its heritage and St Wulfrum’s areas. We have a regeneration officer starting soon, who will be working with heritage organisations and redeveloping heritage across South Kesteven.
“We also work on skills. We have a scheme called the skills service, which works effectively between businesses, schools and young people. It helps young people understand what their futures may be and how they can get there. We are making businesses understand the opportunities for them.”
So how did a former Londoner, born in its south-west, arrive in Lincolnshire? Steve moved to Worcester and Leicester and after studying heritage at Bath University, and later building conservation at Bath University, he worked for English Heritage. One day, he was stood by Peterborough Cathedral and he saw potential in making more of such historic assets.
Steve became CEO of Opportunity Peterborough and is widely credited with boosting the city, helping it attract record numbers of new businesses and helping create thousands of jobs. Such recognition has seen Steve become an international figure in his field. He has given talks overseas and Peterborough has also hosted visitors from afar, keen to her Steve’s and Peterborough’s experise on matters as diverse as technnology, smart cities as well as making the most of your heritage.
“I saw the potential of Peterborough. I have known Stamford for many years as a lovely place. I saw the same feeling in Grantham. You can feel the prestige of its town hall, you look at its places, the architecture, the strength of the town. It just needs that bit of a push.”
He cites Grantham’s independent shops and the festivals of Bourne and Stamford as part of an economic rebirth.
“More importantly, since I have moved to InvestSK, there is such an underlying passion among the people, a genuine identification with the district. It won’t take much to bring that to life. You have to re-ignite the passion. But it’s there.”
Hopefully this, coupled with Steve’s reported success in Peterborough, will pay dividends in South Kesteven too.
He added: “Judge me in a year’s time on the number of jobs we have created, the jobs safeguarded, the companies that have relocated and moved in and investment.
And he concluded: “Confidence is fundamental. If you can build on the confidence businesses will grow.”