Page last updated at 07:05 GMT, Monday, 7 September 2009 08:05 UK

'Resilient' Newport looks to the future

By Shanaz Musafer
Business reporter, BBC News, Newport, South Wales

Ryder Cup flags in city centre
Newport is already looking forward to next year's Ryder Cup

The city of Newport in South Wales has come a long way in a few years.

Situated a mere 12 miles from Cardiff, it has often been overshadowed by the Welsh capital. In fact it was only granted city status in 2002.

But the eyes of the world, or the golfing world at least, will be on Newport next year when it hosts the Ryder Cup.

Banners in the city centre welcome you and look forward to the event, which it is hoped will boost tourism in the area.

The general feeling is one of optimism.

"There are positive signs in Newport," says Matthew Evans, leader of the city council.

Several major regeneration projects are underway, with new developments appearing on the Waterfront, the building of a new university campus and the upgrading of the train station.

Some £21m has been earmarked by the council to improve the city's roads and pavements -money that has come from borrowing and from cuts in council allowances.

Businesses too are gaining confidence that the future is beginning to look rosier.

University campus under construction
The new university campus is due to open to students in September 2010

Production is due to restart this month at the Corus hot strip mill just east of the city in Llanwern.

It is a very different picture to the end of last year, when the UK was just entering recession.

Eyeing recovery

Falling demand for steel led to Corus taking the decision to mothball production at its Llanwern plant in January.

And the firm is still keen not to overstress the significance of restarting production.

"We look at the markets we serve. There's the UK steel automotive market which still looks pretty shaky," says Robert Dangerfield from the company.

"People talk about the [car] scrappage scheme - but how many cars are made in the UK using British-made steel? How many have been sold as a result of that?"

Now people are more willing to travel for work. They are prepared to go wherever they need to to make ends meet
Graham Morgan, South Wales Chamber of Commerce

Even so, the steel giant is cautiously preparing for recovery and is reasonably happy with the shape it is in, given the downturn.

"If you'd have said to us a year ago that with the sheer size, scope and nature of the crisis that we have experienced, and said we would have emerged in the position we are in in August 2009, that's quite a good job," Robert Dangerfield says.

Changing mentality

Although historically Newport has had strong links to heavy industries and continues to do so, its reliance on it was exposed when the sector was hit in the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s.

"It does have a proud industrial heritage and history but longer term we are redressing the balance," says Matthew Evans.

The experience of previous recessions has also had an impact on the mentality of the workforce, says Graham Morgan, director of the South Wales Chamber of Commerce.

New urban development
Regeneration is the buzzword around the city

"The idea of a job for life is gone," he says. "Now people are more willing to travel for work. They are prepared to go wherever they need to to make ends meet."

Falling unemployment

Perhaps this is one contributing factor to the fact that unemployment in Wales has fallen in the last couple of months. It is the only region in the UK currently seeing a decline in jobless numbers.

A large amount of workers in the public sector - where jobs are generally seen as more secure - no doubt helps too. In Newport, 7,500 people are employed by the council while 5,000 work for the NHS. The Office for National Statistics and the Intellectual Property Office are also based there.

But a rise in confidence across various businesses is also evident, says Graham Morgan.

"More businesses are looking to employ people rather than unemploy people," he says.

'Moral obligation'

Industrial Automation and Control, which specialises in electrical systems integration, is looking to do just that.

Peter Lewis
Peter Lewis is keen to invest in his business

The company has continued to recruit throughout the downturn and never considered laying off workers.

"We take people on as apprentices. There's a moral obligation to keep them employed," says founder and managing director Peter Lewis, revealing an almost paternal attitude to looking after his staff.

Moreover he is bullish about the future and is hoping to relocate offices soon. He believes a sensible business strategy has allowed him to build up enough cashflow to be able to invest in the business.

"Now's the right time to do it," he argues. "Interest rates are low."

'Resilient' nature

Despite the upbeat sounds coming out of the city, signs of the recession still exist.

Plans for a £200m shopping centre development had to be pulled in June when the developers were not able to raise the finance due to the banking crisis.

Council leader Matthew Evans
Matthew Evans says people in Newport are optimistic about the future

Although the council is set to put the project out to tender again, even if another developer comes in, the centre won't be ready in time for the Ryder Cup, which was the initial intention.

Council leader Matthew Evans calls the collapse of the project "a major disappointment".

But he is still confident that the city has a bright future. "Resilient" is how he describes it.

"Regardless of what's happening in the outside world, I think Newport people are used to taking a lot of knocks," he reflects. "The majority are optimistic for the future."

And with visitors flocking to Newport for the golf next year, he hopes the tournament, together with the current regeneration projects, will put the city firmly on the map.

"Newport is going places," he says.

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