Last week saw the launch of Digital Lancaster, a collaborative effort between people and organisations in the region with an interest in supporting growth in this vital sector, and a spin off from Digital Lancashire, of which Hotfoot is a founding member.
Michael Gibson, chair of Digital Lancashire, estimates at least 600 people are employed at over 35 digital companies in Lancaster city centre – from web design agencies to product, software and ecommerce businesses – not to mention all the freelancers that support us, from photographers and filmmakers to illustrators and animators.
And it is a sector that is growing fast. These days companies need digital expertise just as they need legal and financial services.
Although Digital Lancaster is naturally made up of quite a few direct competitors, there is a genuine spirit of cooperation, and I left the launch with several meetings lined up with companies offering services complementary to our own.
And there are areas of common interest even competitors can support.
One is to ensure Lancaster is perceived as a place of excellence for digital services, just as the Highlands of Scotland are known for great whisky. It is about time, after all, that Lancaster was known for more than a big castle, fine furniture, and linoleum.
To achieve that we need to get the infrastructure right. While there are some really great places for small companies, like the beautiful Storey building, where we have an office, there is a shortage of quality space for larger businesses to grow.
I would also love to see more co-working spaces for startups to set up shop. All they need is fast wifi, strong coffee and space to collaborate and create. There are too many people taking up tables in cafés, or going stir crazy at home. Perhaps one or both of the universities can play a role here?
Attracting and retaining skills matters too. We cannot compete with the lure of the Northern Quarter or Shoreditch (although our coffee and craft beer is right up there with the best). But with the Lakes and the Forest of Bowland on our doorstep, and London a brisk two and a bit hours away by train, we are well situated to welcome people once they have got the big city life out of their system.
At least that is how I ended up back here. And it is one of the best decisions I ever made.
This post originally appeared in the Lancaster Guardian, where I write a weekly column.