At the geographic heart of England, and once known as the workshop of the world, the West Midlands has a successful track record in attracting overseas-owned companies. There are more than 2,300 firms from 40 different countries in the region, employing about 10% of the region's workforce. However, during this recession, the West Midlands has suffered the highest unemployment rate, measured by the claimant account, of any UK region.
Manufacturing remains a key part of the West Midlands economy, employing more than 350,000 people: about a third of all cars built in the UK are made within 25 miles of Birmingham. The region is also home to 400 or so dedicated aerospace firms that employ 23,000 people. Birmingham claims to have the largest, fastest-growing business and professional services sector in the UK outside London. Its ICT sector, growing at a 20% per annum, is a recognised centre of the UK software industry. The region has also become a focal point for specialist medical technology companies.
Its location at the centre of the UK's road and rail network means that 82% of the UK population is within a 150-mile drive of central Birmingham. About 170 direct rail services every weekday link it with London, while Birmingham International Airport offers 100 daily scheduled flights and is second to only to Heathrow in the UK in the proportion of business travellers it handles. A £260m expansion scheme includes the Multi-Modal Interchange at Birmingham International Station and an £11m SkyRail 'people-mover'.
Salaries are described as 32% lower than London and 6% lower than the national average. The West Midlands also claims to have the lowest staff turnover rate of any UK region. It has 13 universities, eight science parks and two of the UK's top five business schools. Each year, 41,000 students benefit from one-year work placements in the region, with more than half of them choosing to remain in the region for employment after graduation.
Cadbury's, Jaguar Land Rover, Aston Martin, JCB, GKN. Birmingham City Council is Europe's largest local authority.
Quality of life
Contemporary canalside apartments in city locations, period housing in laid-back suburbs, historic market towns or thatched cottages in picturesque villages ... there's a wide variety of living choices in the West Midlands. Dining experiences can range from Michelin-starred restaurants in Ludlow to curry houses in Birmingham's Balti Triangle. For culture lovers, there's Birmingham's Symphony Hall (home to the world-renowned City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra), the Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon. World championships are commonplace at Birmingham's National Indoor Arena, test cricket at Edgbaston, golf at the Belfry and several Premiership and Championship football clubs.
Birmingham city centre offices are available from £14 to £28 per sq ft; offices in Stoke-on-Trent available from £13 per sq ft; industrial rents: £5.75 per sq ft in Birmingham, £3.75 in Stoke-on-Trent; land costs: Birmingham, £250,000 per acre, Stoke-on-Trent £100,000 per acre.
The first region to launch a series of Regional Venture Capital funds, which have a combined value of more than £20m. And the Grant for Business Investment (GBI) is a form of financial assistance available to businesses located in Assisted Areas. In Tier 2 areas (which comprise parts of Birmingham, the Black Country, Coventry and North Staffordshire and a limited number of wards in Broms-grove, Solihull and South Staffordshire), GBI is available to any size of business, subject to the scheme's eligibility criteria being met.
Ansty Park, Warwickshire, a 100-acre European HQ site in Coventry, located next to Junction 2 of the M6 and J1 of the M69; Longbridge Technology Park, a 45,000 sq ft innovation centre for smaller tech companies and a second building of 29,500 sq ft for larger companies, on the former MG Rover site in South Birmingham, near J4 of the M5; Castle Gate Business Park, Dudley, which can accommodate office buildings from about 11,000 sq ft up to 110,000 sq ft.
Birmingham is reputed to have more trees than Paris, and more miles of canal than Venice.
Advantage West Midlands - 0121 380 3500; www.advantagewm.co.uk
Government Office for the West Midlands - 0121 352 5050; www.gos.gov.uk/gowm
UK Trade & Investment West Midlands - 0121 503 3257; www.uktradeinvest.gov.uk/ukti/midlands_west.