If you want to know how well a city is doing in terms of its ability to attract and nurture digital and creative businesses, one of the most important barometers is the size and quality of its coworking offering. This shouldn’t be too surprising given that the two go hand in glove in the 21st Century.
The link is confirmed by a recent study from the University of Birmingham which highlights the availability of adaptable workspace as one of the three most important factors for the resilience of small businesses and start-ups, especially those in rapidly growing and volatile sectors such as tech and creative.
The report concludes: “space and locality are crucially important, not only for cost and size effect purposes, but also in regard to reputation and clustering. Space creates an intangible resource, and a non-priced based competitive advantage, for companies … thus fostering flexibility and adaptability. The use of informal networks, as per clustering, supports the development of tactics fostering funding and business development adaptabilities; it complements a flexible working environment, allowing creative workers to adapt and grow in a nurturing environment.”
The report is describing two of the most important and attractive characteristics of coworking spaces and it is appropriate that it is doing so based on the experiences of the Digbeth area of Birmingham, given the city’s success in creating the sorts of spaces and infrastructure needed for firms to thrive.
According to CBRE’s report Tech Cities: Exploring tech hotspots in the UK regions Birmingham is now the second most attractive destination for tech firms in England outside London.
According to Tech Nation, Birmingham’s tech sector grew steadily between 2006 and 2016, with a 351 percent increase in the number of businesses formed each year. A separate report from the Centre of Entrepreneurs published earlier this year claims that Birmingham is the second most active city for business start-ups outside London, with 18,590 new businesses established in 2018 alone.
The City is doing all it can to provide the right context for the success of these new businesses. Last year it was announced that Birmingham is to become the UK’s first large-scale test area for 5G technology. The arrival of HS2 and the hosting of the Commonwealth Games in 2022 as well as regeneration projects such as the Smithfield development will only make the city even more attractive for a wide range of businesses.
It should come as no surprise that the coworking market in Birmingham is booming in tandem. A report from Cushman & Wakefield published at the beginning of May predicts that take-up from coworking firms in Birmingham will exceed 700,000 sq ft by 2021, as providers keep pace with new demand from occupiers.
The report also found that the quality of the offering from coworking providers will improve over the same period. It predicts that the average size of serviced office space in Birmingham will increase from around 20,000 sq ft to nearer 30,000 sq ft in the next three years as more value-added services such as cafés, gym, concierge services are put into each location.
Such added value facilities will be essential because the kinds of businesses that will come to inhabit them don’t just need adaptable office space in the right location, but also a working environment that creates a sense of community and addresses the wellbeing and productivity of the people who work in it. Coworking is an idea whose time has come at the same time that Birmingham is becoming one of Europe’s most innovative and attractive locations for innovators.