Business leaders have welcomed research revealing Worthing and Adur are among the most enterprising areas in the country.
According to national studies by Experian, the two locations are ranked within the top 50 authorities for supporting a range of innovative IT, design and media firms.
These “champion” businesses in creative fields were deemed as vital to the area’s development, as the digital economy continues to play an increasingly significant role.
The Experian figures revealed that since February, 2010, Adur, which ranked 21st in the study, has added 600 new businesses and now hosts 3,280 firms. Worthing, ranked 42nd, added a tally of 1,269 to reach 7,040 companies in total, during a period which had otherwise been marked by wider recession.
Though the research offered a good deal of optimism, it has been tempered by latest statistics showing average pay rose only 1.4 per cent last year. This was against an inflation rate of three per cent.
This resulted in the majority of households throughout the county effectively being financially worse off in real terms – though last week’s Budget offered relief with an increase in personal tax allowances.
Tina Tilley, chief executive of Worthing and Adur Chamber of Commerce and Industry, believed the Experian research revealed signs of an increasingly-buoyant economy.
She said: “We’ve seen businesses leave the area in recent times, including Aviva and Boc Edwards in Shoreham, but there’s been a number of successes, too.
“Digital companies such as Fresh Egg, Bond International HR, Bowers & Wilkins speakers, Shoreham Port employing hundreds of new people and Ricardo manufacturing with McLaren all prove there is diversity in our economy.”
Councillor Bryan Turner, Worthing council cabinet member for regeneration, welcomed the results. While conceding the area’s retail sector faced challenges after high-profile closures including The Officers Club, Past Times and Bon Marche, and now computer company Game going into administration, there were signs of encouragement in other sectors.
He said: “This research confirms the value of the work we have been doing. Over the past 18 months the council has formed a strong partnership with organisations such as Worthing First, the Worthing and Adur Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Northbrook College, Job Centre Plus and Worthing CVS. Together we are changing the culture around self-employment and business start-ups. There is now more focus on creating your own company.”
Mr Turner highlighted the fact there were key developments which were set to contribute to the area’s prosperity.
Chief among these are the £150m Teville Gate scheme which will see a strong mix of retail and residential development, the multi-million Aquarena swimming pool redevelopment, major extension to Worthing Hospital and development surrounding the new Worthing College site.
Mr Turner, who last summer helped launch Worthing First’s Enterprise House in Ann Street, offering emerging businesses low-cost office space, also cited the area’s low unemployment rate – 3.2 per cent against a national average of eight per cent – as being critically important.
Believing raising levels of higher education was key to economic progress. He welcomed a separate survey that showed the Worthing area had one of the highest levels of academic and professional qualification attainment outside of London.
He praised Northbrook College, explaining it had worked in partnership with the council in raising educational levels through its apprenticeship scheme.
The councillor revealed the college’s new environmental technology facilities at its newly-revamped Broadwater site would prove vital in providing employment in a fast-emerging sector.
However, he said there were ongoing issues within the economy which needed further attention.
“I think there are challenges in the office sectors, as outside of the M25 it has been hard for many places to attract new businesses, with perhaps the exception of Brighton, which Worthing may benefit from.
“There are still challenges in retail with news that firms such as Game have just gone into administration, but that’s a national problem, not just specific to here.”