Transatlantic Business: Going For Gold

Monday, January 3, 2011 - 01:00

The Editor interviews Sir Alan Collins, HM Consul-General and Director-General of UK Trade & Investment (UKTI).

Editor: Please describe your previous experience in the British diplomatic service. When did you become Consul General in New York and Director General of UK Trade & Investment in the U.S.?

Sir Alan: I assumed my post in New York in January of 2007 following four years as the British High Commissioner in Singapore, where I played a leading role in securing London's bid for the 2012 Olympics. My previous posts include that of British Ambassador to the Philippines and Director General of the British Trade and Cultural Office in Taipei.

Editor: What region comes within the purview of the Consulate in New York City, and what services are provided by that office?

Sir Alan: I represent the consular region that includes New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Fairfield County in Connecticut. The Consulate provides consular services to British citizens and visa services for those wishing to visit the U.K. for business, study or pleasure. The Consulate also works to sustain the long standing relationship between the U.K. and the U.S. The office is also the headquarters of the UKTI network in the U.S.

Editor: What is the purpose of the UK Trade & Investment Office? As Director-General of UK Trade & Investment, U.S., what services will you bring to the U.K. as well as U.S. companies and their citizens?

Sir Alan: UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) supports the U.K.-U.S. substantial and high value trade and investment relationship. Through our network and the knowledge we have of the respective commercial environments, we are able to develop the platform that brings like-minded companies together from each side of the Atlantic, which ultimately leads to their exploring business potential.

Last year, we supported 170 U.S. companies to invest in the U.K. We helped a further 14 U.S. companies identify cutting-edge R&D taking place at U.K. universities that has led to transatlantic collaborations.

We also support British companies to develop their business in the U.S. Last year we provided services to close to 3,000 companies looking to develop their commercial presence here. For example, Mark Group, a Leicestershire-based energy efficiency company, recently established a presence in Pennsylvania, employing some 300 Americans.

We have expertise in those areas where we believe the U.K. to have a solid commercial proposition . So for example, we have experts working in life sciences, ICT, clean tech, homeland security, financial services, energy, and the creative industries, amongst others.

UKTI provides expert advice and practical support. We provide a range of unique services to meet each company's individual requirements. For U.K. companies these include participation at selected trade fairs, outward missions and bespoke market intelligence. In 2010 my team in New York provided market research and events for The U.K. Law Society to help identify U.S. companies doing business in the U.K. and U.S. law firms with whom its members could partner to better serve their clients. As part of the Overseas Market Introduction Services we helped the Law Society to organise guest lists, invitations and other logistics for a range of events across the U.S. International Policy Adviser for The U.K. Law Society, Charlotte Ford, found the events a success: "UKTI not only eases the administrative burden on us, but it attracts a larger crowd of people that we and our members want to meet. They have an extensive local network and are able to bring in a broad mix of contacts.

For U.S. companies we can provide information related to funding, financing, staffing and operations. Additionally we can provide practical help on the ground, including visits to suitable locations, finding business partners and accessing financial incentive. We offer an aftercare service, including advice on maximising investment in the U.K. through domestic and international expansion. An example is R. Brooks Associates Inc., which offers a full range of products and services that support nuclear and fossil electric generating plants, industrial processing facilities and decommissioning and decontamination activities. R. Brooks began working with British Energy in 2007, and when it became clear that it would be more cost effective for R. Brooks to have a U.K. presence, UKTI was called in to help. John Stringer, President of R. Brooks Associates, found UKTI support made the company's transition to the U.K. much smoother than if they had done it alone, saying "UKTI's help and support was phenomenal, finding available office space for us and exploring new outlets for our services."

Editor: What is the U.K. doing to encourage a prosperous environment for business?Sir Alan: David Cameron's government has set out a clear economic strategy to show the world that the U.K. is open for business. Since coming to power, the current coalition government has worked to ensure the U.K. economic outlook is inspiring, stable and sustainable, and that the U.K.-U.S. business relationship continues to add significant value for both sides of Atlantic.

For example, on November 29, 2010, the British Government published the Growth Review, which further sets out how it will create the essential conditions for private sector growth. The Review will focus on two elements: structural reform priorities that can benefit the whole economy; and removing barriers to growth in sectors. Trade and investment is one of six priorities identified. The Review is scheduled to last for the duration of this Parliament, with a first phase reporting in March.

Editor: What is the U.K. Government doing to address the matter of high corporate taxes?

Sir Alan: One of the many measures the U.K. Government has taken to support the economy, it recently published its detailed plan for corporate tax reform, demonstrating its commitment to a competitive and stable tax system that allows business to expand and invest in the U.K. This builds on planned reductions to corporation tax set out in its Budget, which will give the U.K. the most competitive corporate tax system in the G20. It includes reform to the U.K.'s Controlled Foreign Company regime to make it more competitive. It also sets out plans to introduce a 10 percent tax rate for its Patent Box to encourage innovative businesses to invest in the U.K.

Editor: Has this corporate tax reform had any impact?

Sir Alan: Yes, this already is making an impact. GlaxoSmithKline has announced plans to invest £500 million in British manufacturing. The move is expected to create around 1,000 jobs over the lifetime of the project. GSK Chief Executive Andrew Witty linked the decision to the introduction of the Patent Box, saying " this is a welcome step by the Government to improve the attractiveness of the U.K. as a place for the private sector to locate and invest ."

These, and the other measures the government has taken, has led to the independent Office for Budget Responsibility forecasting growth of over 2 per cent for each of the next five years, employment rising each year, and the deficit falling. They expect the Government to achieve its ambition to eradicate the deficit within five years. The FT reported that "by acting early and decisively, the Chancellor's plans have secured the confidence of markets in a way that those put forward by some of the eurozone periphery have not." New forecasts from the European Commission support this view. It now predicts the U.K. economy will grow 2.5 percent in 2012, compared with 1.8 per cent in the eurozone. The Chancellor said in Parliament that "Britain is on course both to grow the economy and balance the books - something some people repeatedly said would not happen."

Editor: Can you tell our readers about your role in the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games in London in 2012?

Sir Alan: As the British Government's champion for the business legacy of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games I am responsible for ensuring the business impact of London 2012 lasts long after the Games conclude. To make the Games as successful as we can, we must ensure that innovative and ambitious companies from the U.K. and around the world take full advantage of the business opportunities the Games present. UKTI believes 2012 will be a catalyst for developing new businesses; inspiring existing businesses to grow and internationalise; and act as a magnet for foreign direct investment. In short, converting sporting ambition into economic gold.

On the Games themselves, the venues are on-time and are currently being delivered under budget. They will be ready to welcome the world's best athletes and provide a spectacular backdrop to London and the whole of the U.K. in 2012. As an example you may have seen in the press that the timber track of the Velodrome is complete and the Olympic Stadium lights were switched in before the Christmas holidays. But while the venues may be nearing completion - there is still a lot more to do. The theatre may be built - but the play still needs to be put on.

Editor: If companies are interested in participating in the Games, when should they begin to start planning?

Sir Alan: Companies hoping to secure London 2012 business opportunities need to start planning now. As of the first of January, the Games are only 575 days away. While the contracts for designing and building the stadium may have been filled, opportunities concerning the staging of the Games are still out there. Contracts remain out there to be won. This is an open, fair, and global competition in keeping with the U.K.'s level playing field for all companies, regardless of nationality. Companies who offer the best solutions will win the business. The procurement team at the London 2012 Organising Committee have awarded approximately £150m of contracts already, with a further £300m in progress to complete soon, for an overall total of £700m.

Editor: What kinds of goods and services are still needed?

Sir Alan: Goods and services are still needed in all procurement categories:

  • Artists, Performance and Events
  • Security
  • Services
  • Facilities Management and Catering
  • Sports - Including Medical
  • Technology
  • Transport and Logistics
  • Venues and Infrastructure

Editor: What is the best way for U.S. companies to access these business opportunities?

Sir Alan: The best way to access these business opportunities is to register on CompeteFor, a website which matches Olympic contractors and potential suppliers. Currently there are over 120,000 companies registered on CompeteFor, including over 5,500 overseas firms. You will not be surprised to hear that companies from the U.S. make up the largest international part of the pie at around 15 percent. It is expected that around 200,000 companies will eventually register.

Editor: Can the UKTI help a company secure a specific contract?

Sir Alan: No, UKTI cannot help you secure specific contracts. However, via CompeteFor, we can introduce you to over 100,000 potential business partners, help you to access UKTI's inward investor services, and improve your chances of success.

Editor: Does having a U.K.-presence make a difference in the ability of an American company to secure a contract for the Olympics?

Sir Alan: There is no doubt that a company with a U.K.-presence is best placed to pick up Olympic business. In fact, my trade and investment teams across the country are helping U.S. companies do that now, and we have had some success. Around a quarter of all of the U.S. companies who register on CompeteFor go on to express an interest in partnering or investing in the U.K. after my staff has been in contact with them.

Take U.S.-based SME Branding - Specializing in branding and design. SME Branding was interested in London 2012 marketing/branding activities. The co-founder, Fred Popp, realised that if he was serious about winning a London 2012 contract, the best place for him to be was the U.K., and he registered on the CompeteFor website in early 2009. UKTI in New York instantly reached out to SME, and working with London colleagues, helped SME open its London office by assisting with banking requirements and visa issues.

Editor: Given the enthusiasm generated by the Olympics for companies to establish a presence in London in 2011, will there be opportunities for businesses to expand in the U.K. following the Olympics?

Sir Alan: Other Olympic-related opportunities will arise as the 216 National Olympic associations announce where they will base their training camps in and around the U.K. UKTI will be looking to work with our regional teams and the visiting country to develop bilateral trade and investment ties on the back of these Olympic links. For example we will be taking forward events and activities with colleagues in Birmingham, home of the USA Track & Field team before the Games.

There is also business to be won with the host London boroughs and other regional bodies hosting the sporting events as they engage with visitors and citizens, as well as the Olympic Sponsors. For example, Vancouver-based Allscenes Media worked with a number of the Host Boroughs of the Vancouver Winter Olympics to promote their activities. This was an opportunity for citizens who wanted to participate in the "Olympic atmosphere" but may not necessarily have had a ticket for the sport. Their technology allowed people to understand and interact with what was on offer via the current medium of choice - their smart-phone. Allscenes found the whole opportunity so valuable, they have now taken some small office space in London, with the intent to grow and expand within 6 months, to be ready to pitch for the opportunities that are coming.

Editor: Do you have any final comments to encourage businesses from many nations to participate in the 2012 Olympic and Paralympics?

Sir Alan: London won the right to host the 2012 Olympics in competition with some of the world's great cities - a powerful signal to the rest of the world that we are able to compete and deliver at the highest levels. For those of you who have a successful business in the U.S., I hope you will register on CompeteFor and work with British companies in securing Olympic business. I urge you to take advantage of UKTI's support to help you realise your 2012 business ambitions. Once you have done this, you will find that the U.K. is a location second to none in enabling your company to showcase its capabilities.

Portions of this interview were taken from a speech delivered by Sir Alan Collins to the Greater Philadelphia BABC Chapter.