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Internationalising the North and West Midlands – strategy themes and priorities

Brexit, the impacts of Covid-19, and the fact that economies at any scale cannot operate in isolation mean that places are constantly looking at how they can better connect economically with the rest of the world. This short think-piece considers how different places within the North and into the West Midlands are looking to 'internationalise’ their approach to achieving economic growth by analysing the content of their internationalisation strategies.  


Internationalisation is a topic at the top of the agenda for economic growth, and particularly so for the economic regions within the Northern Power House (NPH). We seek to explore some of the main strategies and priorities within Internationalisation Strategies (IS’s) in these regions that came up through our analysis. These include attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), place-marketing and business growth support, which appear to be the most important objectives of going global.

This blog will first provide some background to the drive to become international, touching on the key objectives of the NPH strategy and the Department for International Trade (DIT). Then, some specific of individual areas’ activities will be covered, before moving on to some possible areas for further development.

The NPH’s 2016 strategy clearly demonstrated the importance of internationalisation in the North’s economic growth, as it used an increase in inward investment projects as a marker of the strategy’s overall success. Further, the strategy’s 5th strategic objective regarding trade and investment largely echoes the DIT’s objectives to support UK businesses to grow internationally and to ensure the UK remains a leading destination for inward investment. As such, we have seen authorities across the North publish their own inward investment strategies, and/or increase their focus on internationalisation within strategic economic plans.

Our Analysis

It is no surprise then, that our analysis shows that all IS’s have a focus on business growth support, inward investment and place marketing. Across all areas, strategies proposed developing business support services to be able to give specific, tailored advice on exporting and reaching international markets. This attempts to demystify the process for SME’s and clearly supports the DIT’s objectives.

Encouraging FDI appeared to be the intention behind most of the activities present within every strategy, from arts and cultural offers, to research and innovation and connectivity. Much of the language used within strategies illustrates the importance of using culture or developments in industry and infrastructure as a way to promote regions to potential investors. Thus, there is a clear connection between place-marketing and attracting FDI. Perceptions are key, and in line with the DIT’s objectives, areas are right in focusing on promoting their areas as great places to live, work and invest.

With slight variations, the Northern cities we looked at seem to be on similar tracks to expanding their international reach. Interestingly, the least common themes within IS’s include programmes for skills and employment, as well as for improving health. Research shows how important these areas can be for bolstering productivity, and therefore ensuring businesses have the workforces they require to thrive. Perhaps a similar focus on the people within cities should be adopted more widely, to allow increased and more inclusive international growth.


The prevalence of Internationalisation Strategies in recent discourse indicates the importance of connecting with overseas markets to bolster local growth. This is particularly true for economies within the North and West Midlands, which have historically lagged behind the rest of the UK. Further, having a well thought out and actionable strategy is even more important for these areas given the current challenges of Covid-19 and Brexit. Perhaps it would be useful for authorities in these areas to learn from each other’s action plans, particularly given the commonality between the IS’s across these region, to create a truly prospering Northern Power House. 



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About the author

Rebecca Pearce

Rebecca Pearce

Rebecca Pearce is a Research Consultant for the Growth Company, providing research support for various projects. As a Sociology graduate, she has experience in social research, data analysis and report writing