A DIVERSE ECONOMY WITH CONFIDENCE IN ITS FUTURE.
According to Anthony Quin, a partner at Stirlingbased solicitor Muirhead Buchanan: "Stirling has traditionally been seen as a quiet market town which you pass on the motorway or the train on the way to other parts of the country, with lovely views of Stirling castle and the Wallace Monument as you go by."
"But this has often been allowed to disguise the fact Stirling's central location and excellent road and rail links make it the ideal place to do business, live and work, or to commute from," Quin continues.
"The central location of the city, with a large and diverse catchment area, and the influx of new businesses have fuelled population growth. This gives existing businesses - including legal firms and other service providers like us - the challenge of meeting an increasing demand."
greg callan, managing partner at French Duncan's Stirling office, believes the economy of Stirling is starting to recover from the recent downturn. French duncan, which merged with local firm Macfarlane gray in 2012 and employs 50 staffin Stirling, looks after many of the longstanding family businesses in the area but also focuses on the upand-coming technology businesses emerging through places like the Stirling University innovation Park.
"A lot of our clients weathered the storm over the last five or six years because they are well run businesses," says callan. "now there is the opportunity to look forward with some degree of confidence.
"Macfarlane gray have been in the Stirling economy for the best part of 80 years and we have been involved in many growth businesses over that time and many of them now are on to the third generation," he says.
Stirling has a fine tradition of family businesses, which have grown over the decades from one-man bands into large local employers, and has also now become home to many well-recognised national names.
Testament to this is Graham's The Family Dairy, which was founded in 1939 by the grandfather of the current managing director, robert graham. Based in Bridge of Allan, the company is now Scotland's largest independent dairy, producing more than 700,000 pints of milk daily, as well as 50 tonnes of butter and 50,000 litres of cream a week. in november, graham's announced plans for a new PS20m dairy to be built in the Stirling area, creating 450 new jobs.
"A new dairy will provide a step change in our business that will not only be great for the Stirling economy, but incredibly important for the long-term future of the dairy industry in Scotland," robert graham explains. "We want to continue making Scottish dairy products from our Stirlingshire heartland where my grandfather started the business 75 years ago, but are physically constrained at our current Airthrey Kerse dairy in Bridge of Allan.
s "The new dairy could bring 450 new jobs over and above any construction-related employment and would include up to 50 apprenticeships to bring local young people into employment. The facility would also house a research and development centre to allow us to continually develop and grow the Graham's brand through new productss."
The ability to finance a new dairy would be achieved through the income generated from its Airthrey Green project, which is a joint planning application with housing developer Mactaggart & Mickel Homes. It features 600 houses, including affordable, retirement and self-build homes; a new primary school; a public park; local road improvements and a neighbouring centre with retail and leisure units.
Stirling Council is increasing its support for businesses through a number of initiatives, including the launch of the PS500,000 Stirling Business Investment Fund. Eligible small and medium-sized businesses will be able to apply for loans of between PS10,000 and PS25,000 to help them improve their competitiveness, access new markets overseas and create new, high-value employment.
"Here in Stirling we are investing in our local economy," says Cllr Neil Benny, Stirling Council's economy convener. "With half a million immediately available for business loans, we've made a vote of confidence in our business community to develop new markets and products to create profits and jobs to benefit our area. We have land available for development, we have the kind of skilled workforce other areas can only dream about and we are right in the middle of the country, with half of Scotland's population within an hour of our city centre."
Stirling Council's new economic strategy includes a PS213m Strategic City Investment Plan designed to stimulate growth across the area. This will be co-ordinated and delivered collaboratively by a new City Commission, which will bring together national agencies, utilities and the private sector.
"There's a huge amount of eagerness from utility companies, investors and local businesses to support the physical development of the city through collaborative working," explains Carol Beattie, senior manager, economic development at Stirling Council.
"This will enhance Stirling's ability to respond to opportunities, keeping the city alive to international change and ensuring it can fulfil shifting demands for products, services and the tourism offer."
A new international plan is also being developed to promote the particular selling points of Stirling as a place to do business, particularly in key sectors including tourism, food and drink, and life and chemical sciences. And the council is supporting the establishment of Business Improvement Districts in Stirling city centre and Dunblane.
Johnston Carmichael, Scotland's largest independent accountancy firm, opened an office in Stirling in 2011 and has since grown from two to six staff.
"We've seen a lot of diversification of the local economy in recent years and it's exciting when you consider the potential for more of this going forward," says James Stewart, tax director at Johnston Carmichael's Stirling office. "In terms of industry sectors, Stirling has traditional strengths in food and drink, with agriculture and primary food production making a significant contribution to the local economy.
"Tourism and hospitality are also key, demonstrated last year by events like Armed Forces day and Bannockburn 2014, as well as spin-offbusiness from the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup.
"The financial services sector, while dominated by Capita and Prudential, also continues to thrive, with a number of additional smaller businesses operating in this sector."
In the public sector, major headquarters include the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Scottish Institute of Sport.
Successful small businesses include Tigershark Multimedia Productions, a video production company specialising in film, motion graphics and 3D animation. Set up in 2004 by former Scotland rugby internationalist Stewart Campbell and based at Thornhill to the west of Stirling, the company's client list includes National Museums Scotland, the Scottish Court Service, Poppy Scotland and international chemicals group Brenntag.
"Most of our clients tend to be in Edinburgh, Glasgow or London, and we have a few European clients too," Campbell explains. "Because we have clients everywhere, the real benefit of Stirling is location. It's very central for Glasgow and Edinburgh, and we've had a few jobs in Dundee and Aberdeen as well."
The company has recently s converted a mill building it owns into offices, and is seeing business grow in both volume and scale. "We are doing bigger jobs, and more and more corporate video, both in sales and marketing, and health and safety," Campbell continues. "The freelance team I use are very good and I can rely on them. I hope to increase the workforce to continue building on the scale of projects we can take on."
Stirling University has played an important role in developing research and development opportunities in the area. The adjacent Stirling University Innovation Park, set up in a joint venture with Stirling Council in 1986, is home to more than 40 companies in specialisms including pharmaceuticals, healthcare, renewable energy, engineering, and technology.
Stirling University and Forth Valley College have also helped to drive the local construction industry. Stirling University recently completed the second phase of a PS40m investment in student accommodation, and Forth Valley College opened a new Stirling Campus in 2012 at Kildean on the western edges of Stirling, an area itself subject to a wide-ranging strategic development plan.
Construction recruitment consultancy Contract Scotland has been based in Stirling for 15 years and is growing so rapidly it is struggling to meet its own staffing and office needs.
"We currently employ over 30 staffin Stirling and we are looking to increase that headcount by 15 to 20 per cent in 2015," explains Contract Scotland director Emma Marriott. "Finding suitable recent graduates from Stirling University is one of the key challenges for our business.
"We are still recruiting more stafffrom outside the local area - which is manageable given the good transport links - but unsustainable in the medium term.
"Construction activity in Stirling is positive - and the university is driving good activity. Community care projects will commence next year and mothballed housing developments look set to move slowly in 2015. There's much demand for private and social housing in Stirling, and it would be encouraging to see the sites that have been set aside since 2010 take shape."
Supermarket chain Waitrose opened its fifth Scottish store - and second new-build - at Stirling's Burghmuir Retail Park in 2012 and now employs around 180 people.
It works with a number of local suppliers, including Graham's the Family Dairy and Katy Rodgers Yoghurts, and donates PS1,000 each month and 250 hours of volunteering time each year to local good causes.
"We had been looking for an opportunity in Stirling for some time and the Burghmuir site was perfect," explains David Sharp, branch manager of Waitrose Stirling. "It gave us a new-build store built to our specifications, and a great location in the city centre. It was good to work with a council that was working hard to attract businesses to the area."
Sharp says Stirling is an ideal location: "Because of our location, Waitrose Stirling actually has a huge potential for growth, especially in terms of home delivery services. We've already extended deliveries across Perthshire and Clackmannanshire, and we're now offering a trial service in Aberdeen. Stirling makes us accessible to so many areas - we've already purchased new delivery vans and extended some partners' hours."
Accountant Campbell Dallas employs 14 people in Stirling servicing a wide range of local businesses. Office partner Roy Hogg was born and bred in the city and sees a number of opportunities for development. "The first one is there's a diverse, skilled workforce already in place, but many of them commute out of Stirling each day for work. We need to find more opportunities for the workforce locally.
"The second is that, like many small towns, we have unused accommodation. We have retail units lying empty and business park accommodation with 'to let' signs. We need to find a way to make this accommodation work.
"The third is an old chestnut, but is so important - tourism. I work in a city packed with historic buildings and sites, and there's a huge opportunity to use Stirling's existing strong transport links to help capitalise on this."
Cllr Johanna Boyd, leader of Stirling Council, says the council has been working with businesses, partners and local stakeholders to develop a 'holistic' economic strategy, and that the future looks bright.
"This is an exciting time for Stirling and we are on way to achieving our vision of pursuing a diverse high wage economy that delivers local jobs for people across Stirling." n
Stirling has traditional strengths in food and drink, with agriculture and primary food production making a significant contribution to the local economy James Stewart, Johnston Carmichael (below)We have land available for development, we have the kind of skilled workforce other areas can only dream about and we are right in the middle of the country, with half of Scotland's population within an hour of our city centre Cllr Neil Benny, Stirling CouncilThere's a diverse, skilled workforce already in place, but many of them commute out of Stirling each day for work. We need to find more opportunities for the workforce locally Roy Hogg, Campbell Dallas (above)