Sunderland, Tyne & Wear, England


ICF welcomes the city of Sunderland to the Top Seven for an unprecedented fourth time this year. The largest city in the Northeast of England, Sunderland has quite literally risen from the ashes of the Industrial Age to create a globally competitive city prospering in the Broadband Economy. This transformation was due to neither luck nor location, but to visionary leadership, good planning and unrelenting commitment.

In the 1980s, this former shipbuilding and mining center on the North Sea, which at one time launched more ships than any other port in Europe, had a peak unemployment rate of 22%. As the last shipyard closed in 1988 and the last coal mine followed in 1994, Sunderland fell into the bottom 10% of Britain's "depressed districts." The legacy of heavy industry was a large unemployed group of low-skilled workers, many with chronic health problems. With so little local opportunity, young people fled the city, leaving behind a shrinking and aging population.

Partnership Strategy

Sunderland's government responded in a way that would become a much-copied strategy for success. In 1991, it organized a volunteer group called the Sunderland Partnership, comprised of members from government, local universities, the chamber of commerce and citizen leaders representing important constituencies. The Partnership developed a vision for a new economy based on what Europeans called "telematics" - the union of telecommunications and computers. While City Council staff labored to translate this vision into measurable goals and meaningful programs, the Partnership focused on politics. Members educated their organizations and constituents about the crisis into which Sunderland had fallen, the challenges to recovery, and their vision for the future. This was to prove essential to Sunderland's success, because it created the political will and integration needed to embrace change.

The Telematics Strategy was published in 1996 to cover a 5-year period through 2001. It included training programs in call center and other Digital Age skills for the unemployed, public-access Internet kiosks and "electronic village halls" with Internet access, business incubation programs and an initial, government-funded high-speed network for a metropolitan area possessing no more than basic telephone infrastructure.

Doxford International

Meanwhile, the economic development staff succeeded in persuading a real estate developer to build the first speculative building of what is now Doxford International, an award-winning office park. During the 1990s, it filled and expanded, filled again and expanded again as the European headquarters of Nike and Verisign, and home to such companies as Barclays, CitiFinancial, EDF Energy and T-Mobile. These companies were attracted by the high-quality facilities in a city with attractive wage costs, a strong incentive program, and the availability of freshly-trained labor. The same team won public-sector funding from the national government and European Commission and invested it in rebuilding the derelict waterfront into a new home for the University of Sunderland, a former technical institute that had gained university status in 1992.

By 2000, Sunderland had created 9,000 new jobs. A second Telematics strategy, covering the 1999-2003 period, focused on using ICT to promote social inclusion and ensure that everyone benefited from the city's transformation into an Intelligent Community. It set new goals, including development of a publicly-owned ISP and e-government hub called the Sunderland Host, expansion of the high-speed network to businesses and community centers, and creation of a one-stop Sunderland Portal for citizens, business and government users. There was no let-up, however, in economic development efforts. In 2002, EDS opened its first data center in the North of England in Sunderland. During the three years from 2002 to 2004, Sunderland secured 72% of the new jobs entering the region, despite having just 11% of the North's population.

The latest plan, called The Sunderland Strategy (2004-07) has focused on exploiting the city's global connectivity and growing knowledge workforce to attract even more inward investment and encourage the formation and growth of small and midsize companies. For the past five years, the number of net new jobs has increased 4.87% compared with the UK average of 3.17%. Sunderland has also seen a measurable improvement in the quality of those jobs, with growth primarily in financial and customer services that offer good pay and prospects for advancement. From 2004 to 2005, gross weekly pay in Sunderland rose at three times the national average, and the average salary for full-time employees is almost double the national minimum wage.

Working Together

Sunderland's transformation from industrial has-been to Intelligent Community illustrates the power of making many separate elements work in concert. For example, the city's activism about deploying broadband, and willingness to create joint ventures where necessary to reduce risks to the private sector, convinced carriers including NTL-Telewest, BT and Tiscali to provide broadband at competitive costs for speeds up to 10 Mbps. Broadband penetration has leaped from 25% two years ago to 75% today. The City Council has taken advantage of this connectivity to create an e-government portal that delivers a wide range of services to about 30,000 visitors per month. Broadband is also the medium for a Virtual Learning Environment created by the City of Sunderland College that is used by more than 20,000 students for training in information technology.

The "electronic village halls" created by the first Telematics Strategy are being expanded into multi-agency centers, which provide healthcare, housing, welfare rights, police, job-finder and other services as well youth and sports facilities. Video-conferencing links people using the centers to support staff. These are supplemented by kiosks distributed throughout the city. Sunderland has also identified and trained Community e-Champions to broaden digital inclusion at the neighborhood level, as part of a "peoplefirst" strategy that also equips social service workers with wireless PDAs from which they can instantly check databases and record service requests.

Following on the success of Doxford International, Sunderland has attracted major investment in technology office parks and incubators. The Business & Innovation Center at the Sunderland Science Park offers 200,00 sq. ft. (18,580 m2)of high-tech workspace housing 165 companies employing 1,100 people. The Rainton Bridge Business Park currently houses 150,000 sq. ft. (13,935 m2) of incubators and technology facilities and will become the site of a 400,000 sq. ft. development by Northern Rock that will put the site on course to exceed the original target of 4,000 new jobs.

The University of Sunderland, with 250 full time R&D staff, has become an innovation hub that makes business formation a priority. A Digital Media Center created with support from Sony is the most advanced facility of its kind in the UK, with 50,000 sq. ft. (4,645 m2) of film, TV and radio studios, and includes an incubation space for students setting up their own businesses. A New Ventures project facilitates the spin-out of new businesses from University research, while the University continues to expand incubator facilities and develop venture financing in collaboration with government and the private sector. A recent survey revealed that 10% of Sunderland's labor force is now self-employed - inspired perhaps by the success of local entrepreneurs like Paul Callaghan, who founded Leighton Group at the Business & Innovation Center in 1997. It is now a global business serving customers including British Airways, Lloyds TSB and Microsoft.

So successful have been its efforts to develop a knowledge-based economy that Sunderland has begun branding itself as the "Software City." It is remarkable to think that, in a single generation, the people of Sunderland have moved from slag heaps, slums and stagnation into a future built on turning knowledge into prosperity.

Population: 283,700

Labor Force: 126,100


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