Digitell us a story
We've heard a lot about techie stuff happening in Manchester lately. There was a spell before the end of last year when it seemed like there was an announcement every week about the thriving digital offering; extension of the Sharp Project, launch of The Loop, imminent arrival of Project Digital, or Tomorrow, the opening of TechHub in Piccadilly, even a council-sponsored hackathon to invent new civic apps.
They are just the new things. Perhaps the biggest asset in this space that we already know about is Media City UK and its hefty broadcast tenants. Beneath all this, the foundation of the labour pool produced by local universities is a solid one.
But what I am surprised by, having covered Manchester and Greater Manchester for several years, is that this time there feels like a lack of a single vision, clear objective, attack brand. Speaking to contacts after Deloitte's TMT forecast event in Media City UK this week – where my plan of editing via laptop in Costa Coffee next to BBC North was scuppered by a lack of wifi in the café, yes honestly – I was reminded about Manchester's "road map to becoming a global digital city" which I had forgotten and read again in the cuttings later. Maybe that's just my aged memory, but the message isn't repeated, doesn't resonate or register enough when you hear the stewards of these assets speak at business meet-ups. All is too territorial and protective, defensive, about "me and my tech offering", not "ours".
This is in contrast to the numerous other times I have sat and listened to the city's top table echo lines off a shared script about the next large development area. The aim is sure, cooperation between rival parties admirable and the ambition clearly defined.
Property people are increasingly grasping the prospect that digital content which captivates the world, software applications that disrupt the way we live, hardware that becomes a second brain in our hand, these could be the areas that produce endless future occupiers and wealth for generations. If Manchester and Greater Manchester want to maximise their chances of realising that dream, they need to move quickly to combine their assets and market them collectively. The best graduates must be inspired to stay and not be lured to California, venture capitalists to make it a natural stopping off point alongside, or ahead of, London Tech City.
Media City is still young and the BBC North offices have not long been fully occupied. All of the Sharp Project is not yet built out. TechHub is a few weeks old only. The Loop launched little more than two months ago. Delivering and unwrapping this serious infrastructure has taken the owners' time and effort until now but sooner or later their eyes have to be cast outwards to start engaging with the wider world to show off all that is here. Don't let private or political boundaries stand in the way.
And fix the wifi in Media City's coffee shop, please, it's embarrassing and frankly unbelievable. (Costa Coffee told me after my visit that they were talking to O2 about free wifi access and promise it will be available soon, but gave no date)