When you think of Reading, historically known for bricks, beer, bulbs and biscuits, it doesn’t necessarily conjure up burgers and baseball. But its similarities to innovative regions such as the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania, USA, has meant that the Berkshire town continues to punch well above its weight when it comes to attracting large American firms.
Once a rural backwater known for steel and coal manufacturing, Lehigh Valley underwent an aggressive reinvention to become one of the go-to places for life sciences, big pharmaceutical brands and advanced technology. Benefitting from a strategic northeast location, within close proximity of other business centres such as New York and Philadelphia, enviable transport links and a wealth of top-tier universities, Lehigh is now a prime destination for large corporates.
This should start to sound familiar. Reading, just like its US counterpart, far exceeds expectations and outperforms many major UK cities, including Oxford and Leeds, in terms of attracting corporate investment. The delivery of world-class commercial property, the burgeoning employment market and its short distance from both London and Heathrow, make it a popular hub for international businesses.
What’s more, Reading’s appeal to US occupiers lies in its large campus-style working environments, such as Green Park, which has drawn the likes of QuintilesIMS and PepsiCo to the relatively unassuming town. This is alongside an established partnership with Thames Valley Science Park and the University of Reading, which will encourage further growth.
Looking ahead, we could also see an increase in demand for town-centre stock, especially given the upcoming completion of Crossrail in 2019 and the regeneration of Reading train station. Recently completed schemes such as R+ and The White Building are all attractive propositions for a wide range of firms at various stages of maturity.
With this in mind, Reading companies have seen mergers & acquisition (M&A) activity worth approximately £10 billion since 2012,13 per cent of which involve companies headquartered in the US. While the growth in venture capital is important to support the fledgling businesses in any UK market, the strength of M&A in Reading is an indicator of the presence of more mature companies, as well as America’s prevalence in the town.
Another reason for Reading’s success is its provision of new and modern office stock, which has enabled businesses to grow and expand without having to leave the town. This holds real appeal to firms looking to put down roots, and with a number of key lease expiries on the horizon, this could help to both retain these firms as well as attract new ones.
In addition, with a technology cluster on par with that of Oxford and Cambridge, and a diverse international and domestic employee mix from largely outside the EU, there should be some insulation to Brexit which will appeal to global occupiers.
While Reading may lack the forests and mountain scenery of Pennsylvania, fundamentally the two locations have beaten the odds to become leaders in their field at attracting first class global businesses. Looking ahead, with more than 400,000 sq ft of annual take-up, Reading will have to embark on further new development to cater for the growing number of requirements from US firms looking for a home across the pond.