Wolverhampton dubbed city of 'Premier passion' at business showcase
Wolverhampton has been dubbed a city with "Premier passion" as hundreds flocked to its annual Business Breakfast event.
A string of major development projects were outlined that will transform the look of the city over the next few years, while the city council underlined its commitment to improving skills and building homes for local people.
As well as hearing from Wolves managing director Laurie Dalrymple speaking about the ambitious growth plans of the club and its Chinese owners, Fosun, guests also listened intently to an address from eBay's UK vice president, Rob Hattrell, as he talked about the online giant's Retail Revival project, launched in Wolverhampton this week.
The aim is to help more than 100 small firms in and around the city over the next 12 months, getting them selling their products and services online through the eBay platform, aided by support, advice and guidance from the company.
And Mr Hattrell dismissed the idea that the high street was dying, instead saying it was evolving as more companies and retailers learned to embrace the current wave of technological change.
"It's not some zero-sum game, in which technology wins and the high street dies," he said. "It's about people changing the way they shop; the high street has always been subject to change."
Mr Hattrell said eBay had chosen Wolverhampton to launch their Retail Revival because of the enthusiasm of the city council and because of the wealth of small entrepreneurial businesses in the city, in particular citing Goodstart Jones, the handmade bag firm that has been the first signed up for the new scheme.
Mr Hattrell was joined on stage by Mohammed Agha, former Syrian refugee turned Wolverhampton resident, founder of a business called Almaskiya and now a thriving eBay entrepreneur, using the platform to sell his products around the UK and overseas.
Mr Agha told how he had started out buying books at car boot sales and reselling them on eBay before concentrating on traditional products from the Middle East. He had chosen to live in Wolverhampton, he said, because of the quality of education it offered his children and the reasonable price of property - both warehousing and now the home he is hoping to buy.
Compere of the business breakfast at the GTG centre, on Bearing Drive in Wednesfield, was TV presenter and journalist Steph McGovern, who had dubbed Wolverhampton "a city with swagger" when she hosted the event last year.
The Middlesbrough fan, referring to Wolves promotion, said that this year: "You are now a city with Premier passion."
"You definitely have style, and a real passion for what you are doing." At a time of Brexit uncertainty, "Wolverhampton businesses have just been getting on with stuff."
The audience at GTG –by far the largest attendance at a business breakfast since the event was launched five years ago – also heard Wolverhampton council managing director Tim Johnson talk about the importance of improving skills and housing in the city.
A series of projects around the new railway station – where demolition work is due to get under way this week – would create new offices and homes, he said. One of the first will be the new i9 office building which will also see work start this year.
"Over the next two years people will see physical change in the city. The challenge is to see that they benefit from that," said Mr Johnson.
He also said that delays to the Westside leisure scheme in the city centre, where work is not now expected to start until early next year, were due to requests from the proposed occupiers for changes to the designs, for instance to the cinema.
Wolverhampton Council managing director Tim Johnson said: "Proud doesn’t do justice to how I felt at our annual Invest Wolverhampton annual business breakfast event this morning.
"Massive effort from the awesome team at Wolverhampton Council to make it such success - great turnout, great contributions in a great city."