Collaboration and partnership were key themes within the business zone at last month’s PROGRESS21, hailed as the largest face-to-face business event to take place in Manchester for over 18 months.
Staged at Manchester Central, the event was organised by the Growth Company, with significant support from the public, private and third sectors. Seen as an important signal of Greater Manchester’s post-pandemic recovery, it was also an opportunity to push forward with the city region’s ambition to become a world leader in digital skills and green innovation.
PROGRESS21 Business featured a series of presentations, seminars and workshops centred on critical business issues including increasing sales, dealing with financial challenges, and raising growth capital. There were also sessions around developing a high performing and inclusive workforce, achieving digital transformation, and understanding Net Zero.
There was a keynote address on the future of the GM economy with Mayor Andy Burnham too, a panel discussion with leading economists and a session around the contribution, and opportunities for social enterprises within the economic recovery.
Commenting on the digital and green agendas, and their importance to the city region’s future, Burnham said: “Digitalisation and decarbonisation will be the twin driving forces of the 21st century economy.”
He also commented that: “By rising now to the challenge of the climate crisis, we will solve the jobs crisis, the housing crisis, and we will give people better public transport. This is the route to levelling up.”
The sentiments were echoed by Lou Cordwell, chair of the LEP, who said: “Our vision is a bold one. We want a recovery that takes people and the planet with us.”
Speaking at a session covering sustainability within business, Mark Hilton, head of sustainable business at the global consultancy Eunomia challenged delegates to redouble their efforts. “Recycling is just the tip of the iceberg. It won’t solve our problems alone. We need to be reusing more, repairing more, sharing more,” he said.
Delegates also heard from Manchester-based business Play it Green who pledged to plant a tree for every person attending the event while also giving delegates the opportunity to plant more by visiting their exhibition stand, leading to 3,154 trees being planted which is the equivalent of removing 18,444 cars from the road for one day!
Play It Green co-founder Richard Dickson said: “Tree planting is part of the solution to climate change, but it must be combined with real behaviour change, with individuals and businesses actively lowering their carbon footprint. Helping the region’s businesses become more sustainable will make them more appealing to consumers, investors and leave a lasting legacy for the planet.”
Another pressing post-pandemic issue is people management and alongside discussions around workforce well-being, and development and retention, delegates heard from panellist Lisa Maynard-Atem, from Black United Representation Network. In a discussion around diversity and inclusion, she stressed: "I don't think it's the job of an EDI (equality, diversity, inclusion) lead to make sure a business is inclusive, it's everyone's."
Alongside the conference, an expo featuring over 90 exhibitors, allowed delegates to discover more about support for their business, from legal experts to training providers, as well as ways in which to tap into the knowledge and research of the region’s universities.
According to Idris Ahmed, who is in the process of opening a new branch of the recruitment agency Staffline in North Manchester, as well as finding new clients he was also keen to network and discover more about the possible support available from different companies. “What I realised is that a lot of different businesses are bridging together now,” he said.
Networking was also at the top of the agenda for Rachel Brydon from University Academy 92, a higher education institute in Old Trafford. UA 92 aims to provide students with experience of industry throughout their degree course, she explained. “Today really was all about building relationships and networks with local industry partners,” she said, adding that she was hoping to bring new business connections onto campus, to provide guest lectures and help to shape the university’s curriculum.