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Wales For Your Business:
A Bit Of Work, A Bit Of Play, A Lot Of Promise

By David R. Butcher, Assistant Editor, Customer [email protected] Solutions


Quick recap of what is widely known of Wales: it's the homeland for Dylan Thomas; and it produced singers Tom Jones and Charlotte Church and actors Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones. But what of Wales outside of literary and pop culture contributions? What of Wales' business opportunities? If you're seeking a location to set up your business, or to add another office or contact center for your present business, you may want to continue reading and consider the following.

Wales is one of the four constituents of the United Kingdom, the whole of which is completed by England, Northern Ireland and Scotland. As of the last national census, there were 2,903,085 people in all of Wales. [Source: National Assembly for Wales] Around three quarters of the 2.9 million population are concentrated around the large cities and mining valleys of the southeast of the country, according to BBC.

Geography & Lifestyle
Wales, located on a peninsula in central-west Great Britain, is a vibrant coastline country within the United Kingdom, and it borders England to the east and the sea in the other three directions. As such, Wales is a recognized region of the European Union. The significantly unspoiled land comes in the form of rolling hills and mountains, and interminable stretches of tranquil beaches.

In stark contrast, however, within close proximity to the country and the coast is a bustling city life. The cosmopolitan Welsh capital, Cardiff, sits in the south with a 4.9 percent population share of the UK.

Labor Force/Workforce Data
Mitial Research International (MRI), a research house located in the Welsh capital, estimated that there are 635,000 people in the working population in Cardiff, Newport, Bridgend and surrounding areas.

And in the whole of Wales, there exists a workforce of 1,308,000, according to the Welsh Development Agency (WDA). The Welsh workforce, according to the WDA, 'consistently outscores others with its strong sense of loyalty.' A survey of the contact center industry in Wales, conducted by MRI and commissioned by the WDA and the Welsh Call Centre Forum, found that Welsh call center agents are more capable than their counterparts around the UK, with a ration of one supervisor to 16 agents ' one of the lowest in Britain. Further, Wales has one of the lowest levels of unemployment in the EU.

In the contact center sector, the turnover rate in Wales is the lowest in the UK: about 14 percent, compared with the UK average of about 23 percent. Eighty-four percent of the workforce is composed of full-time employees, and the remaining 16 percent are part-time employees. Some 150 companies comprise the contact center and shared service center industries in Wales, and these companies currently employ nearly 25,000 people.

Wales' workforce is supported by 13 higher education and 29 further education institutions. The country houses the University of Wales, the second-largest university in the UK, often recognized for its academics, research, development and collaboration with industries.

Also in Wales, Cardiff Business School was recently named by Business Britain magazine as Best Business School in the UK and Ireland, while Glamorgan Business School ' the largest in Wales ' is rated as one of the five best in the UK by London's The Times.

There are currently 14,000 students enrolled in business, financial management and accounting or related courses in Welsh universities. Further, there are 167,000 students enrolled in community colleges and technical institutions across the M4 corridor. (The M4 corridor is the UK's equivalent to Silicon Valley: some 175 miles long and 40 miles wide, crossing Southern England along the route of the M4 Motorway.)

Wales is a country with two languages: English and Welsh. Throughout the centuries, English has displaced Welsh as the majority language of the Welsh people. (It should be noted, however, that the Welsh language, Cymraeg, is enjoying a revival at the moment and is spoken by some 20 percent of the population.)

In terms of other European languages, Welsh workers are resourceful. Fourteen percent of Welsh call centers report that their staff is proficient in other major languages, including French, German, Spanish and Italian, among others.

Good news and bad news: Welsh salaries are booming, as staff salaries have overtaken the UK average. While this is undoubtedly good news for workers, it undoubtedly adds to the cost of locating there.

Taxes are the same as those throughout the UK, a corporate tax rate of 30 percent, set by the government in London. Social security costs, paid by both employers and employees, are also among the lowest in Western Europe.

Incentives are provided through a number of bodies, including the National Assembly for Wales, the WDA and the European Commission. As well, Wales is recognized as an Objective One region within the European Union, and so the Wales Assembly Government can offer two discretionary investment grant schemes, aimed at helping manufacturing or service sector businesses that operate beyond local markets:

Regional Selective Assistance (RSA) grants are of at least the equivalent to about $91,000. With no upper limit, these discretionary awards fill the gap after all other potential funding has been exhausted. To be eligible for assistance, a project must create or safeguard jobs and 'must make positive, long-term contributions to the regional and national economies.' RSA grants are available in two assisted areas ' mainly West Wales and the Valleys, as well as other sites scattered throughout the country. Assisted areas have significant development potential and a large range of opportunities, such as a flexible and skillful workforce. Grants are always the minimum needed to allow a project to proceed. RSA funds can be used on a new project or to expand, modernize or restructure an existing business.

Assembly Investment Grants (AIGs) are discretionary, fast-track grant schemes also delivered by the Welsh Assembly Government. 'AIG was developed specifically to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) make new commercially viable capital investments in their businesses,' notes the Welsh Assembly Government. Businesses employing fewer than 250; almost all manufacturing sectors are eligible, as are many service sectors that serve more than only the local market. The capital investment must take place in Wales.

Telecommunications Infrastructure
Wales can currently offer broadband services to more than 85 percent of the population; this month (August 2005), 98 percent of the population will have access.

Wales utilizes DSL, cable, wireless and fiber technologies, including dense wave division multiplexing capabilities, for the country's communications.

One of BT Global Services' data centers, BT Ignite 90 million GBP, is located and running in Cardiff. The resilient and secure data storage location offers fully managed and collocation services to international clients. There is presently a 550,000km BT fiber optic network installed in Wales, 60 percent of which is not being used.

The network is almost 95 percent digital switched. There is an asymmetrical digital subscriber line (ADSL) in the major towns and cities.

BT network connects its Colussus IP Network for Internet connections to the rest of the UK and the world. Further, BT has selected Cardiff and surrounding areas for the initial rollout of its 21st Century Network (21CN) ' for phone calls, broadband and Ethernet services. The migration of customer lines to the new infrastructure is expected to begin during the second half of 2006. BT will migrate around 350,000 customer lines in the area, including many served by other telephone and Internet service providers and mobile operators, to enhance the deregulated and competitive telecommunications market.

Business & Contact Centers
The contact center industry in Wales is composed of 118 contact centers, with 24,000 employees. The major sites for these call centers are Swansea, Cardiff and Newport in the south of Wales; one third of the centers are in Cardiff; one fifth in Swansea; and with smaller clusters around Bangor in the north. Office rental charges are 20 percent to 28 percent lower than in other UK cities.

As always, before moving a portion of or your entire business to a new location, you should dig deeper into the details and consider all factors and potentialities of the site you're considering and therefore researching. In Wales' case, the vibrantly cultural country offers plenty of business and recreation incentives: a bit of work, a bit of play, a lot of promise.CIS

Special thanks go to the Welsh Development Agency, Wales Tourist Board, National Assembly for Wales, Acorn and Mitial Research International for their beneficial assistance in providing information. Visit them online for related information.

For information and subscriptions, visit www.TMCnet.com or call 203-852-6800.

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