ESSEX sits in the shadow of its big brother, London.

It cannot match the economic powerhouse of the City...but it is going to have a good go.

The ambitions of the Economic Commission is for Greater Essex to be the fastest growing area outside of London but it has some work to do.

It needs better infrastructure, to upskill its workforce and find more ways of keeping home grown talent in the county.

Chelmsford Weekly News:

Colchester Institute graduates pictured in 2017

A panel of independent experts consisting of economists, academics and business leaders presented an objective analysis of the county’s economy.

For their vision to be realised it means Essex’s long-term economic growth rate needs to be closer to 3 per cent a year over the next 20 years, compared to the current rate of 2 per cent.

In the minds of regional business experts it is worthy aspiration but one which requires a strategy to achieve.

The Enterprising Essex: Opportunities and Challenges report highlights that annually Greater Essex grew by 0.6 per cent a year between 2004 and 2014, compared to 1.3 per cent across the country.

Greater Essex in itself consists of four “corridors” - the Essex Haven Gateway (Colchester, Braintree, Tendring), Heart of Essex (Brentwood, Chelmsford, Maldon), South Essex and West Essex (Epping Forest, Harlow, Uttlesford).

Kevin Bentley, deputy leader of Essex County Council and councillor responsible for economic growth, skills, infrastructure and the digital economy, is pushing hard for Essex to take its place at the high table.

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Councillor Kevin Bentley in Earls Colne

But he is not shy in coming forward about the existing challenges facing some coastal areas such as in Tendring, which is among the most deprived areas of the country.

He said: “In Jaywick, we have worked with the district council to provide more housing.

“We’ve updated and upgraded the roads and so we’ve absolutely identified this is the place for potential growth.

“It has one of the best beaches on the East Anglian coastline so it’s a great place to go, we just need to make it even better and a place where businesses feel is a good place to invest in because other people are investing in it as well.”

Chelmsford Weekly News:

Lotus Way, Jaywick, where works have started

Essex has many other attractive features.

Factors driving UK and foreign companies to invest include its proximity to London or the London-Stansted-Cambridge corridor, its access to UK, European and international markets and cost advantages around property and employment.

Invest Essex, which works to attract new businesses and retain existing businesses in the county, has been successful in attracting companies from America, India, China, Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere in Europe.

However, the report says despite its advantages, the county’s ability to attract more business is hindered by a lack of awareness and a shortage of commercial workspace particularly for manufacturing, technology and financial services.

It said in Basildon “there is little or no supply to meet the demand for smaller serviced offices and managed workspaces”.

This lack of suitable space is also a stumbling block for small businesses looking to expand although Essex continues to buck the national trend for start-ups with entrepreneurial Southend ranking first place.

Chelmsford Weekly News:

The new Creative Business Centre in Queen Street, Colchester

So how can business leaders attract investment to Essex?

David Burch, director of policy for the Essex Chambers of Commerce, said it is about changing the perception that successful businesses must operate from London.

He said: “There’s this push by the Government to get people to invest in the north of England and the Midlands but the south east, including Essex, are net tax contributors for the Government so we put more in than we get back in return.

“In effect, we subsidise other parts of the country.”

Chelmsford Weekly News:

Stansted Airport. Picture: Hufton and Crow

Mr Bentley also highlights several schemes which both men agree is crucial for investment and prosperity.

He said: “Only last week we had our housing and infrastructure bids announced moving on to the next stage which is multi-million pound investment into the county.

“We’re having the A12 announcement coming shortly about the upgrades from Chelmsford to Colchester.

“I will be announcing in the summer the preferred route from Essex’s point of view for the A120 extension between Braintree and Colchester, which is a big step forward.”

Chelmsford Weekly News:

Highways England's Geoff Chatfield at the A120 roundabout in Harwich where work recently started

Plans are also in the pipeline for better rail connectivity and the commission still wants to make more of Essex’s rail, roads, ports and airports.

But for an economy to flourish it is also about nurturing the talents of those who make the cogs turn.

A survey of 1,000 companies found 28 per cent of firms believe there is a significant gap between the current skills of staff and the skills which will be required to meet future business objectives.

In addition, 25 per cent of them would expect to recruit from outside Essex in the next three years because of skills shortages.

Iain Wicks, development manager for the Federation of Small Businesses in Essex, equates this to a disappointing 17,500 jobs out of 70,000 VAT registered business not being created on home soil.

He said: “That’s a worrying statistic and something the county council and the education sector needs to address.

“We’ve got Bradwell B coming up over the next 20 years which is going to be quite a significant project and specific skills surround building a nuclear power station.

“If 25 per cent of businesses are saying the skills aren’t here, that’s a massive missed opportunity.”

Chelmsford Weekly News:

Bradwell Power Station seen from West Mersea

One of answers is to bridge the gap between the business and education sector so apprenticeships, for example, are better tailored to what businesses need.

Mr Wicks added: “It’s making sure the right apprenticeships are available for people going into jobs.

“We can say, yes, there’s 2,000 apprenticeships for employees but if they’re not the 2,000 the businesses want, then they aren’t useful.”

But when you have great employment prospects, the next challenge is to keep them.

All local authority areas except Colchester have a mass migration of 18 to 24-year-olds tempted away to university, London or other opportunities outside the county.

It is a priority for Mr Bentley to keep homegrown young talent in Essex.

He pictures a Silicon Valley utopia where young people earn as good a living as in London but can work in Essex.

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The Brick Bin, which buys and sells Lego online, is one of those exciting companies

He said: “I want that for Essex, where you can live in a great house we’re going to be building for you, cycle or walk to your employment and in an exciting job where you are changing the lives of the people of the future.

“Wouldn’t that be a great thing?”

Included in this innovative new world is what Mr Bentley calls the “next phase of the industrial revolution” - the digital industries.

He added: “It’s about getting the young people enthused and making sure we’re keeping pace with their enthusiasm and knowledge.

“My view has always been we can sit back and wait for other countries to make things and we buy them, or we can make them ourselves and sell it to them and I’d rather be in the latter part of the conversation.”

For the full report, click here.