10 Mar 2021

A business success story: The south east business 'location of choice'

An analysis of Reading’s inward investment performance over the past five years, highlighted by two recent office deals, show why the defacto city has become the premier business location outside London in the south east.

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So, who's moving?

The last five years has seen over 3.7 million sq ft of large office deals locally, equating to over 20,000 linked jobs, with Reading welcoming global corporations from Thales to Verizon, Bayer to Sanofi, Ericsson and Nokia. The icing on the cake has been the opening of the first phase of the Thames Valley Science Park, combining office, research labs, digital screen facilities and business incubation opportunities

The latest of these relocations involves drone innovators Altitude Angel who have announced they will be moving into 2,600-sq ft of office space in The Blade, while communications giant Three have announced plans for a new HQ at Green Park later in 2021. They represent a pattern that can be traced back to the end of the last economic crisis and particularly over the last five years.

Since 2016, over 400 leases have been signed by companies taking office space within Greater Reading (using a radius of six miles from the centre) including the business parks at Junction 10, 11 and 12 on the M4, as well as the central business district. These rental agreements include companies renewing their leases and therefore retaining jobs in Reading, but it also includes many new companies who have taken the decision to relocate their business and employees to the area, creating new jobs for the local population in the process. An estimate of the number of jobs these businesses support in Reading (based on average of 150 sq. ft per employee) is over 20,000.

Some 190 of these leases were office spaces over 5000 sq. ft with giant relocations such as SSE at Forbury Place (185,000 sq. ft) and Virgin Media at Green Park (121,000 sq. ft.) The pharmaceutical and medical technology sector has been one of the fastest growing sectors in Reading in this period with Bayer, Sanofi, BD, Pierre Fabre Pharmaceuticals and Pharmacosmos all setting up offices here. Bayer Life Sciences said that as a result of their move to Reading’s Green Park they had experienced a 250% increase in applications for jobs with the company locally.

A centre of innovation

Reading is also becoming a magnet for the communications sector with Virgin Media, Nokia, Three and Ericsson joining companies already in Reading such as Bullitt. Innovation has always been at the heart of Reading’s leading role in the knowledge economy and to fuel this creativity there has been an explosion of serviced offices and co-working space, much of it in the town centre. 260,000 sq. ft of new space for start-ups and SMEs as well as larger companies who want to co-locate close to innovation, has been built. Major players in the co-working Reading market now include Central Working, Work.Life, Regus, Spaces and Fora, as well as our own Curious Lounge, a hybrid digital skills training facility with co working and networking space for its growing community of people aspiring to develop digital skills and businesses.

Financial and professional services, long one of Reading’s core strengths, has seen more growth in the last five years with top global companies PWC, EY, Deloitte, KPMG, Grant Thornton, MHA MacIntyre Hudson all now locating in the town centre.

Reading’s business parks, located at strategic motorway junctions, have seen exciting growth with a good spread of new tenant businesses at Arlington Business Park at Junction 12, Green Park at Junction 11 and Winnersh Triangle and Thames Valley Park near Junction 10. Reading has also gained a new location, the University of Reading’s Thames Valley Science Park at Junction 11, which has exciting plans for the future as an international film and TV studios. Reading town centre has continued to attract new business, riding on the new investment in office stock, driven by rail infrastructure improvements and the future arrival of the Elizabeth Line (Crossrail) - over 30 businesses taking more than 5000 sq. ft each have moved in, as well as many smaller businesses.

The future of the office

The future of offices is being much debated at the moment in the light of COVID lockdowns and the requirement for working from home. Will employees return to their offices once COVID is tamed? While this question remains unresolved, the business community has continued to invest in Reading as a business location. In 2020, as we all struggled with the impact of COVID, 14 companies signed contracts to rent substantial office space in Reading. Businesses demonstrating confidence in Reading included Oxford Quantum Circuits Limited, FLB Accountants, Crowdstrike, Mavenir, Hollister, Commvault Systems Ltd, PIP Studios, Co-Space, Pexip, Shoosmiths LLP, KYOCERA Document Solutions (UK) Ltd, Hewlett Packard and the renewal of Jacobs’ lease at Winnersh Triangle.

At the heart of these decisions by individual businesses lie a number of common factors that make Reading the business location of choice. Transport connectivity - investment in Reading Station and the future arrival of Green Park Station (scheduled to open in late 2021) and the Elizabeth Line, combined with easy access onto the M4 make Reading easily accessible to London, Heathrow and the rest of the UK.

Reading has historically had a strong mix of business sectors, which attracts other like-minded companies and offers a ready-made highly skilled workforce. Over 50% of the Reading working population is educated to degree level or equivalent and the University of Reading has a significant impact in terms of innovation and talent pool. Over 40,000 people locally are employed in the creative industries, which includes the tech sector (Source: Nesta).

In the last ten years, there has been and continues to be, a huge investment in Grade A office buildings, both in the town centre and on Reading’s business parks. Reading now has the largest stock of high-quality offices in the region.

Location, location, location

Research conducted with millennials by Reading UK at the start of the five-year period pointed to the lifestyle advantages that Reading can offer relocating companies and their employees, from the river to the University, heritage to retail. In a post-COVID world, outdoor space, living close to the office to allow more flexible commuting and having a cultural offer on your doorstep will become increasingly important, as will high spec offices to allow safe working and an ethos on employee wellbeing.

If corporations adopt a hub and spoke approach to offices, Reading is one of the best-placed locations in the UK, offering many of the benefits of a big city without the drawbacks. Three are designing their new office at Green Park with a “hybrid approach” to allow a mix with home working. If this is the future, then recent reports by Centre for Cities and PWC show that the last five years are evidence of Reading’s future long-term success as one of the best performing relocation business locations in the UK.

With an economic success story that is the rival of many cities, let alone large towns, Reading will continue to thrive as we head into the 2020s. The Financial Times FDI City of the Future Awards frequently cite the town as the most business friendly in Europe. This open approach to businesses at every stage of their evolution means newly landing companies are part of a unique economic landscape offering a choice of high-quality business spaces, a highly supportive business landscape including strong networks, dedication to skills and training opportunities for a talented workforce, and environmental sustainability aspirations supported by local targets.

Take a look at our business section for more information about living and working in Reading, or contact our Economic Development Manager Susanne Brackley.


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