In an increasingly competitive environment, the flexible space sector has once again demonstrated its growing value to the UK economy with occupancy rates for small businesses in the Midlands at 81%, ahead of the national average.
According a new report by the Business Centre Association, in association with CBRE, which surveyed 47 operators covering 647 centres, the sector grew by up to 32% to 1st January 2015 contributing an outstanding £8bn of GDP per annum.
Up to 2015 centre openings, turnover and employment within the survey sample in the sector grew exponentially with employment within centres rising by around 19% compared to a national average of just 4.3% comprising 26,000 new and growing companies and 135,000 employees. To accommodate the fast pace of demand, more than 80 new centres opened, with the sample sector now accounting for almost 21m sq ft of floorspace.
According to Andrew Butterworth, Chairman of the BCA, the strength of the sector lies in the focus it puts on the customer:
“For successful flexible space operators, it is all about service, understanding the customer and being close to the customer is central to what we do. We, along with other operators, are concentrating on our positioning in the market place and making sure that buildings are targeted to the right type of occupiers whether that means priority given to collaboration, events, wellness and well being or more traditional approaches. We can easily adapt our buildings and models to meet and anticipate demand. It is this which gives the sector such resilience.”
Whilst co-working is the new watchword for some, it continues to be offered by only around 50% of the survey sample. London offers the most co-working with the ability of businesses to access space otherwise unattainable key to the business model. However, the influence of the co-working ethos is recognisable across more flexible space offerings with break-out spaces, café spaces with full wifi accessibility and a blending of facilities to provide a wide range of services.
With uncertainty on the wider economic horizon in the wake of the BREXIT vote, the sector is in an exceptionally strong position to withstand a downturn. Looking to the future, Jennifer Brooke, Executive Director of the BCA commented:
“In an uncertain and globalised economy, business centres allow businesses to focus on what they do best – running their business – outsourcing real estate. Our members have seen an increase in enquiry levels post-BREXIT as people look to maximise flexibility without compromising on the quality of space. With operators planning a further 1.5m sq ft of space over the next five years the sector as a whole is taking a robust approach.”
Whilst economic forecasts may be troubling much of the economy, the flexible space sector looks set to continue to capitalise on its ability to reflect and respond, offering an increasingly rare stability to local economies.