Ian Mean, Business West Gloucestershire Director, attended the Stroud District Open For Business conference and was impressed by the event. Here, he gives his view of the day.

STROUD District really is starting to get to grips with some of the key issues that face business and growing the local economy.

That is my view after what I can only describe as a quite inspiring meeting held by the Stroud Business Voice group and supported by us at Business West.

Stroud District Open For Business was the positive title of the meeting held at SGS College in Stroud ,which was attended by over 60 business people.

And the big challenge was: How can we all help to shape the commercial future of Stroud District?

Both Stroud Business Voice and Business West share a common goal-that Stroud District Council needs to be totally aligned to the needs of business.

I think that Stroud and the Five Valleys with something like 4,300 companies—90 per cent of which are micro businesses employing less than ten people-is on the verge of an exciting growth period and we need to grab the opportunities quickly.

One of those vital opportunities was very clear at this meeting: Does Stroud District currently have a clear USP-a unique selling point?

I don’t think so.

But it is very clear to me that the new chief executive of Stroud District Council, Kathy O’Leary, is listening.

“Stroud is distinctive”, she said. ”It’s quite unique isn’t it? I believe it does have a USP but it is all about local people’s passion for what they do.

“The council is keen to work more in partnership with local business”.

I think we need to give Kathy the benefit of the doubt on what is generally perceived to be a lack of business partnership as she has only been in post for 11 months.

But there is obviously something of a difference of opinion on how much employment land with planning permission is actually on offer to business.

This is crucial to growth in the area as Stroud and the Five Valleys do not have a high value economy-the second lowest in Gloucestershire at £2.46bn.

Stroud Business Voice chair Steve Dechan said: ”We have potential investors coming into our district but where are they going to go?

“We just don’t have enough commercial land available now. We can give plenty of examples of growing businesses that may have to leave our area. We want to keep them here”.

And Steve was backed up by David Owen, chief executive of GFirst LEP who said: “One of the challenges is some of the employment land that local authorities allocate is simply not viable.

“It is often not the kind of employment land that businesses want to grow into. We need to have a much better relationship between developers, local authorities and planners.”

But positivity was the watchword of this meeting and you will find it hard to meet a developer more positive and enthusiastic than Mark Dransfield, who heads up Dransfield Properties in Sheffield.

He is an inspiring guy with big ideas whose company is transforming that run down shopping centre formerly known as Merrywalks into the Five Valleys shopping centre.

He told me he will be investing something like £30 million into Stroud and loves the welcome he has had in Gloucestershire from GFirstLEP-who have helped to finance the centre-and the district council.

He told the meeting: “There was nothing merry about walking through Merry Walks at all.

“I thought it was the Basil Fawlty of how to destroy a town centre. The creativity in this town is poor and by the time we leave I hope it will be greatly improved.”

We had inspirational presentations from Kevin Hamblin, chief executive of SGS ,whose team are doing a great job in developing their Berkeley green campus.

And Dr Simon Pickering of Ecotricity, who is also a councillor, gave a brilliant exposition on climate change.

After hearing him and Kevin Hamblin talking about a possible Eco centre

at Berkeley I felt that Stroud has probably actually discovered its USP.

Can it develop to be the most green town in Britain?

It certainly has all the credentials and GFirstLEP’s Local Industrial Strategy has an aspiration for Gloucestershire to be UK’s first carbon neutral county.

And Steve Dechan said: “This was one of the most important meetings for business that Stroud District has ever seen.

“It is clear that after many years, Stroud businesses have a genuine appetite to organise and be heard.”

It is all about businesses and the councils talking together and working together.