A record turnout of over 300 business people attended this year’s Somerset in Business Conference on 4th June. Organised by the Somerset Chamber of Commerce and entitled ‘Made in Somerset’, the delegates heard from speakers representing a broad range of industries including advanced manufacturing and engineering, food and drink, and fashion.
Speakers from businesses including AgustaWestland, Numatic International, Pittards and Ministry of Cake provided insight on their history and approach to business, as well as the added value that being ‘Made in Somerset’ provides for their organisations.
The breadth and depth of products and services provided by businesses within the county was apparent throughout, with high quality and an innovative nature being common components. The heritage within Somerset was another outstanding characteristic of the day, with some of the companies represented having been trading for hundreds of years, yet still having a clear focus on innovation.
Fox Brothers is a high quality cloth maker in Wellington that has been making the world’s finest woollen, worsted, cashmere and flannel there since 1772. Managing Director Douglas Cordeaux said, “Our heritage and our Somerset location are our biggest assets. We pick up customers from Japan, Italy and France in a Land Rover, driving them through the Quantock Hills and through quaint villages, then take them to Wellington where they see our archive room. They cannot believe it – and this is something we take for granted. The Somerset countryside is our biggest marketing tool.”
Numatic International is a Chard-based manufacturer of commercial and industrial cleaning equipment, best known for its Henry vacuum cleaner. Property and Energy Manager Andrew Smith said, “We encourage our distributors and customers to come and visit. Coming and seeing Somerset and where we are, and taking them for a game of skittles in the evening or something like that, is a big factor in encouraging people to deal with Numatic. Obviously the products, the availability and the price are vital, but nobody comes to Numatic and spends a couple of days in Somerset without going away being really impressed.”
The strong Somerset supply chain was also referenced, not only relating to the Hinkley Point C opportunities for local businesses that have been developed through the Somerset Chamber but also more generally.
AgustaWestland, based in Yeovil, is one of the world’s largest helicopter manufacturers. Chairman Graham Cole said that the company is proud of being based in Somerset and being part of the Somerset Chamber. He explained, “More than 60% of our supplies are bought in the South West. We do that because we’re West Country ourselves, we do it because it’s convenient, but actually we do it mainly because the supply chain in this part of the world is as good, if not better, than anywhere else in the country.”
Representatives from SWMAS, GAIN and the Chartered Institute of Marketing provided information and advice on how other Somerset businesses can leverage ‘brand Somerset’ and make the most of their potential. Following the main conference, of one-to-one surgeries were available for delegates to consult with SWMAS, EDF Energy, the Hinkley Supply Chain Team and UKTI Trade Advisors.
During the conference breaks, delegates had an opportunity to get ‘hands-on’ with cutting edge technologies in the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre’s MANTRA lorry (Manufacturing Technology Transporter) – a specially customised 14 metre HGV trailer packed with the latest machinery and simulators.
The annual Somerset in Business Conference is one of the county’s largest business events. This year the event was facilitated by Dr Adam Marshall, Executive Director of Policy and External Affairs at the British Chambers of Commerce, to which the Somerset Chamber is affiliated. The main sponsor for this year’s conference was EDF Energy, with session sponsors SWMAS and GAIN.
Summing up the event, Neil Murphy, CEO of the Somerset Chamber, said, “Today was about acknowledging and celebrating what we in Somerset already do really well and the exceptional heritage within the county, as well as identifying that there is a huge opportunity to take Somerset to the next level by leveraging the value of Somerset as a quality brand. It’s not a question of separating the heritage from what we need to do to move forward, it’s a question of taking that heritage and building on it.
“I was particularly impressed by the textiles and food and drink companies we heard from in the afternoon, but as interested in the opportunities that are available for the manufacturing and construction industries. Somerset has a strong tradition for manufacturing but it’s not something we’ve really shouted about in the past.
“I think one of the biggest opportunities for Somerset businesses is export, and the Somerset Chamber is in a great position to signpost businesses to international trade funding and support. Meanwhile the low cost of operation that businesses benefit from here in Somerset is crucial to keeping costs down so that businesses can compete on a global market.”
Somerset Chamber Chairman Graham Knight added, “In this, the Somerset Chamber’s 20th anniversary year, it is rewarding and encouraging to see that events such as the Somerset in Business Conference continue to go from strength to strength, with the highest number of delegates this year being evidence of the relevance of the Somerset Chamber and its events to our business community. It has been an extremely successful day and fascinating to hear more about some of the inspiring businesses we have here in Somerset – a real reason to be proud of Somerset and positive about our county’s economy.”
Cllr David Hall, Somerset County Council’s Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Business, Inward Investment and Policy, said, “I was delighted to attend this hugely successful conference and to experience at first hand the real buzz about business in Somerset, particularly surrounding our vibrant and diverse manufacturing sector. It is clear we have much to be optimistic about across all business areas in our county, ranging from aerospace and advanced manufacturing through leisure and tourism, right through to food and fashion. The Somerset brand is booming and I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling very excited about the future.”
- Picture 1, L-R: Andrew Smith (Numatic International); Steve Woolley (Chartered Institute of Marketing); Debbie Burton (Pittards); Jon Loxston (Pittards); Neil Murphy (Somerset Chamber of Commerce); Jamie Driver (EDF Energy); Dr Adam Marshall (British Chambers of Commerce); Graham Cole (AgustaWestland)
- Picture 2: Record attendance at the 2015 Somerset in Business Conference
- Picture 3, L-R: Adrian Dawson (GAIN); Dr Adam Marshall (British Chambers of Commerce); Alison Chapman (Harry’s Cider); Chris Ormrod (Ministry of Cake); Douglas Cordeaux (Fox Brothers); Neil Murphy (Somerset Chamber of Commerce)