Not long ago, the city's economy was on a downward trajectory. The traditional economic base of manufacturing was starting to feel the pressure of a globalizing world; employment rates were falling, economic investment was almost non-existent and - ultimately - the tax base was quickly shrinking.
A platform for growth
By the early 1990s, city administrators had embarked on a plan to develop a platform for growth that looked beyond the manufacturing sector to identify and maximize the city's assets. "Over the past 20 years, we've been focusing on key areas such as our airports, universities and catchment areas as opportunities to diversify our economic base," said Sir Howard Bernstein, Chief Executive of Manchester City Council. "Today, Manchester is often seen as a knowledge economy with significant segments in new media, research, science and technology, as well as a transformed advanced manufacturing sector."
Tragedy need not de-rail renewal
But in 1996, the city centre was the target of a terrorist attack that injured more than 210 people and destroyed more than 530,000 square feet of retail space and 610,000 square feet of office space. "The recovery process after that terrible day is now widely seen as the start of a second phase of a journey that has driven more value into the Manchester economy," noted Sir Howard. "And since then, we've been helping other cities like Christchurch in New Zealand to understand how they can rebuild their economies in the aftermath of great human tragedy".
Getting the most from infrastructure investments
Over the past two decades, the City Council has also taken a more macro-economic view of infrastructure investment that not only looks at the potential economic and quality-of-life outcomes of each project, but evaluates spend against the impact on the economic potential and the tax base as a whole, thereby enabling the city to prioritize financially sustainable initiatives that result in a net gain for the city.
"We are working with different institutions and private sector parties to bring forward solutions that not only tick our competitiveness and productivity boxes, but also support the development of a low carbon economy, One of these is the Greater Manchester Transport Fund which has committed more than GBP1.5 billion to new infrastructure enhancements over the past few years with every GBP targeted at maximizing the impact on employment and productivity while also delivering reduced carbon dependency and social objectives.
Capitalizing on culture and sports
The city has also invested significantly into cultural and sporting infrastructure that has paid off in spades. The city hosted a hugely successful Commonwealth Games in 2002, launched the world-famous Manchester International Festival in 2007 (leading a national UK newspaper to declare that "Manchester is the beating cultural heart of Britain"), and most recently saw two great football wins with the Manchester City Football Club winning the FA Cup and Manchester United securing the Premier Championships.
For city administrators, the focus on sports and culture has far deeper implications than providing entertainment for its citizens. "Culture and sport are particularly important in changing our role as a destination city," notes Sir Howard. "Investments in these sectors encourage tourism to the city and help us build a stronger retail sector which, in turn, brings more private investment into the city." The strategy is already seeing massive results: the Manchester Transport Fund has committed more than £1.5 billion to new infrastructure enhancements.