Unemployment figures suggest the downturn in Wales has been relatively shallow, with the Welsh Assembly keen to claim some of the credit. However, for many companies, a big incentive to move to Wales remains the good chance of securing grant aid, a process simplified through the creation of the Single Investment Fund.
Key sectors in Wales include aerospace and defence; sustainable technologies and energy; IT and telecoms; bioscience and healthcare; financial services and automotive. Manufacturing still accounts for 24% of gross value added to the Welsh economy, compared with 18% in the UK economy as a whole, and provides about 179,000 direct jobs in Wales while supporting many others. Cardiff claims to be second only to London in the strength of its creative media sector. The country has also created a network of innovation centres - called Technium - to help new and early-stage science and technology businesses. The Wales Fibrespeed Project aims to bring wholesale gigabit connectivity to strategic business parks in North Wales.
London is less than 130 miles away, with the M4 motorway and A55 the primary road arteries. Cardiff International Airport is the major international hub in Wales, while Manchester airport is within reach of North Wales. The Principality has nine ports, offering both bulk cargo and container facilities. Port Talbot's tidal harbour in South Wales has the deepest berthing in the south-west of the UK and can handle vessels up to 180,000 tonnes deadweight. The country's freight rail network is among the most modern in Europe and a multi-million pound Freightliner Terminal has been opened on the outskirts of Cardiff.
Wales' population is rising steadily, with the working-age pool on the increase. Average annual salary is 13% lower than the UK mean. Staff retention is among the highest in the UK, and industrial disputes are well below the national average. Wales has 12 universities and more than 8,000 international students. One in 10 students come from outside the EU. In the past two years, Welsh Higher Education institutions have launched 100 new courses and received over £900m of research funding. More than 90 departments are rated four-star and above for research, and 66 departments have been listed as excellent for teaching quality.
BAE Systems, Sony, Ford, T-Mobile, General Dynamics, EDA, EADS, BT, Next Generation Data, Amazon.
Quality of life
Wales has more than 400 castles, three National Parks and five areas of outstanding natural beauty. Already a noted centre for walking, rock climbing and mountain biking, the country is beginning to be seen as a surfing destination too. The Millenium Stadium in Cardiff is well-known for its sporting and entertainment activities. There are more than 180 golf courses, including Celtic Manor, host for the 2010 Ryder Cup. And this year, Cardiff hosted the first Test match held outside England. Cultural events include Bryn Terfel's Faenol Festival, the Cardiff Singer of the World, the National Eisteddfod of Wales and Brecon Jazz Festival.
Office rents: £22.50 per sq ft in Cardiff; industrial rents: Cardiff about £6 per sq ft, Swansea £5; land costs: £225,000 per acre in Cardiff, £150,000 per acre in Swansea.
Wales has the largest area of the UK qualifying for the highest level of grant award. Businesses in Wales can also access help from the Single Investment Fund and the Local Investment Fund. Technium is a service that helps new and early-stage science and technology businesses, while the Boots Centre for Innovation, based at the Institute for Life Sciences in Swansea, provides funding for the development of pioneering products and technologies.
The International Business Park in west Cardiff has approval for up to a million sq ft of offices; Celtic Springs, a 45-acre business park next to Junction 28 of the M4, is already home to HM Prison Service, Wales & West Utilities, Midas and Integra; and there are plans for a new 100-acre science and innovation campus at Swansea University's Fabian Way.
Wales was the first country in Europe to launch a national development agency, the Welsh Development Agency.
International Business Wales - 0845 010 3300; www.walestrade.com
Flexible Support for Business - 03000 6 03000; www.business-support-wales.gov.uk.