A major project has been launched to establish, for the first time, the size and impact of the digital economy in a Yorkshire city named as part of the TechNorth initiative.
The work is intended to provide a robust picture of the rapidly-growing digital sector in Hull which was recently named together with Leeds and Sheffield as part of the Government’s drive to put the North on the map for international technology investment.
The three Yorkshire cities will combine with Manchester, Liverpool and the North East tech cluster (Newcastle, Sunderland and the Tees Valley) to create TechNorth to support significant public and private sector investment in digital businesses.
Hull-based communications provider KC has commissioned the detailed research with a brief to establish the number of companies, employees and total revenues within the digital and technology sector in Hull and East Yorkshire, as well as its potential for further growth.
The findings will provide a benchmark to track the development of the digital economy over time and be used to influence investment decisions, shape digital skills training provision and identify what support is required to accelerate growth of the sector.
The project has been launched against a backdrop of what has been described as a “perfect storm” of factors which make Hull ideally placed to become a leading centre for digital industries.
These include KC’s rollout of a superfast broadband fibre broadband network which makes the region among the best connected areas in the UK.
KC has signed up more than 10,000 residential and business customers to its Lightstream service, which offers download speeds including 100 megabits per second (Mbps) – more than five times faster than the UK’s average broadband speed of 17.8 Mbps.*
Alan Worthing, director of KC Business, said: “We’re investing tens of millions of pounds in our Lightstream superfast broadband network to give residential and business users Britain’s best connectivity.
“We now have substantial actual and anecdotal evidence of the benefits being experienced by customers, but we would like to fully understand the impact of superfast broadband as a catalyst for economic growth.
“Beyond the Lightstream effect, we feel it’s important to define what is meant by the digital economy locally and to establish a robust benchmark of its size and scope from which we can measure future growth.
“Given the ever-increasing importance of digital technology to businesses and the economy as a whole, we feel this project can produce really valuable findings that can be used to influence investment decisions, digital skills provision and business support for the sector.”
KC has commissioned Innovation Observatory, specialists in researching and analysing fast-moving technology markets, to conduct the research.
It is being supported by the Hull Digital network and the Centre For Digital Innovation (C4DI) Beta tech hub, which assists the development of existing digital businesses and start-ups.
Lightstream powers C4DI Beta with a 3 Gbps (gigabits per second) connection, making it the best connected place in one of Britain’s best connected cities, and home to 12 start-up businesses.
A permanent home is planned for C4DI within the £15m @TheDock development in Hull’s Fruit Market which is due to open next year.
Hull Digital founder and C4DI co-founder Jon Moss said the strong growth of the sector in Hull and East Yorkshire was illustrated by membership of Hull Digital, which began with a meeting of 10 people in a coffee shop in 2009 and now has over 600 members, with 200 joining in the past 18 months.
He said: “The combination of KC’s Lightstream superfast fibre broadband, 2017 City of Culture, regeneration of the Fruit Market as a centre for creative industries and the new C4DI technology hub within the @TheDock development means we have a perfect storm of positive factors which we need to capitalise upon.”
David Keel, chairman of C4DI and joint managing director of digital packaging company Sonoco Trident, which employs 275 people in Kingswood, Hull, and almost 400 more at 13 locations worldwide, said: “In my experience, all businesses are digital and have unlimited digital and tech potential. The challenge is that most have not realised this.
“We started trading as part of the most traditional of industries – printing. However, we redefined ourselves as a digital business a decade ago and since then we have experienced overwhelming growth.
“It’s important that this major research captures how significant digital activity is to companies of all kinds, both in operational terms and as a driver of business growth.”
Businesses are to be encouraged to contribute to the research. Details of how they can do so will be circulated shortly by KC, Hull Digital and C4DI.