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Will Lewis – director of OBI Property – on Manchester and MIPIM

In March, I’ll be travelling to Cannes for MIPIM, the world’s largest property conference. As OBI has developed into a national business, MIPIM and the opportunities it affords to see what other parts of the country, and indeed the world, are doing, have become increasingly important to us.

It’s a pretty spectacular event. In 2015, there were 22,000 registered delegates, which included 4,500 people classed as “investors” – those with money to spend and decisions to make and where to spend it. Even if a city’s leadership isn’t particularly keen on MIPIM, it’s not something you can afford to miss out on, in our view.

Investors are circling constantly. Research papers such as IBM’s Global Locations Trends report track which cities secure the most foreign direct investment (FDI) each year. While London’s place at the top of the table will surprise nobody – the capital has been in top place for each of the last seven years – there’s still a hell of a lot to go for. The UK topped the latest ranking, released in September 2015, with 49,500 FDI jobs, only 11,300 of which were in London.

All the signs are that 2016 will see a strong presence from across the UK. Belfast looks to be putting in a concerted effort this year, while Cardiff’s presence has increased year by year. Scotland does MIPIM pretty well, and for those easily distracted there’s usually a bit of mini golf and whisky involved on the Scottish cities stand.

As far as the English cities go, I’d expect most of them to be quite bullish. There might even be some clues as to how the northern cities are actually planning to make the talk around the “Northern Powerhouse” into something that can create genuine economic gains. The Sheffield team, for example, is going out with the themes of “innovation, urban renaissance and northern specialisation” which seems sensible – on an international marketplace, you don’t get very long to hammer home what it is that makes your region the one to invest in.

Manchester has announced a record partnership, that is, a record number of companies who’ve signed up at a range of levels to sponsor the city’s efforts to sell itself. As early as the first week of February, an astonishing 99 companies had signed on the dotted line, showing that people in the property industry have faith in the city to get it right and give them good value.

In the last couple of years, part of the city’s strategy has been to sprinkle a bit of stardust on the occasion, with presentations at the Manchester stand coming from footballer-turned-developer Gary Neville and TV’s star scientist Brian Cox. But Manchester’s also been at the forefront of the push to make MIPIM an intelligent debating forum as much as a networking and marketing event, driving forward panel sessions bringing together key European cities, thus enabling the sharing of ideas.

There are worse places to have trade shows than Cannes, but if you do it right there’s a lot to be gained from MIPIM, and that goes for both cities and individual businesses.


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