Experts predicted that the downturn might hit the South East hardest, but recovering house prices in the region suggest it also has the capacity to bounce back quickest. And further good economic news lies ahead: according to one estimate, the South East economy could experience a boost of £8.6bn as a result of the 2012 Olympic Games.
The South East is the third-largest of the English regions, and only London has a higher average household income. But there's great diversity within the region, with household income per head varying between £11,100 in Southampton and £17,600 in Surrey. Unemployment has increased by 56% in the past 12 months, yet the region claims to have had its best year of inward investment ever, with 250 new firms locating in the region. It also has the highest employment and economic activity rates in the country. In the same period, the European Space Agency opened a facility at Harwell, Oxfordshire, BMW launched an electric model, MINI E, as part of the national ultra-low-carbon vehicle competition. And the Canterbury Innovation Centre is opening to help knowledge-transfer between academia and business.
The region has three international airports, 11 seaports, more than a hundred motorway junctions, 77 train stations, and the Channel Tunnel. A new Javelin train service due to start in December will cut journey times between Kent and London. Nearby Heathrow Airport is the world's busiest international passenger hub, with five terminals transporting 66.9 million passengers and 1.4 million tonnes of cargo every year. Goods worth £40bn (more than any other region) are moved through South East ports every year.
At 4.4 million strong, the South East claims to have the largest and most highly skilled labour force in the UK. Some 93% of the working-age population hold a qualification, and 35% of the labour force have a degree. The region has at least 450,000 fluent linguists, more than any UK region except London. It also claims to be ahead in IT skills - 513,000 workers have technical IT skills, 20% of the UK total. The region is home to both the oldest and the newest UK universities. In total, there are 24 in the region.
IBM, Vodafone, Tellabs, Biffa Waste, BAE Systems, AWE, National Air Traffic Services, EC Harris, Pfizer.
Quality of life
Almost a third of the land is designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty, and the region contains three areas of Heritage Coastline, one national park and another proposed. With 350 miles of coastline, there's plenty of opportunity for water sports. Cultural and sporting events include Cowes Week, Henley Regatta, Royal Ascot (plus other racing events at Ascot, Newbury, Epsom and Goodwood), Southampton Boat Show, music festivals at Reading and the Isle of Wight, Brighton's Festival and Fringe Festival, and Whitstable's Oyster Festival. Speaking of food, the South East has 20 Michelin-starred restaurants, including two of the UK's three three-starred restaurants.
Land prices range from £250,000 per acre in Swindon to £750,000 in Reading; prime industrial rents are £12 per sq ft in Slough, £9.50 in Reading; office rents: £24 per sq ft in Bracknell, £27.50 in Guildford, £22 in Oxford, £20 in Tunbridge Wells, and £12 in Canterbury.
Principally targeted at small and medium-sized innovative and high-growth companies, Launchpad is a 'soft landings' initiative offering support to international firms establishing themselves in the region. Working with a range of partners, including Locate in Kent, Business Link, and Start, the programme's free support ranges from legal, banking, accounting and funding advice to marketing, recruitment and diagnostic services. Furnished office space is offered rent-free for six months, with free shared broadband and free telephone handsets and line rental.
Milton Park, a science/business/industrial park near Abingdon with more than 3 million sq ft of office, lab, industrial and warehouse space; Surrey University's 70-acre Research Park in Guildford; Crossways Business Park near Dartford, the biggest mixed-use business park on the M25 motorway.
Mars bars, Viagra and the hovercraft were all invented here.
South East England Development Agency - 01483 484200; www.seeda.co.uk
UK Trade and Investment South East - 08452 789 600; www.uktisoutheast.com
Government Office for the South East - 01483 882255; www.gose.gov.uk.