Business in the Northwest of England – The Region at Large (1 of 6)

The Region at Large. Blog 1 of 6 in this series about business in the Northwest of England.

In many respects, the story of urban centres in the Northwest is the story of the Industrial Revolution. Almost without exception, cities in the region experienced a sudden shift in status, from small but ancient market towns in the early 19th century, to booming economic powerhouses of the nation and the centre of international trade networks in commodities like cotton, lead, steel and silk by the beginning of the 20th. The industrial revolution, which swept across the world, originated in the Northwest of England, with lowly Preston, the birthplace of Richard Arkwright; the first place in the world to implement machine technology in the production of textiles. And the first to use traffic cones.

After the Second World War, however, heavy industry and manufacturing took a significant downturn as emerging labour markets in the Far East, South America and South East Asia began to drive down the cost of production. The success of the modern urban centres in the region – Manchester, Liverpool, Warrington, Preston and Chester are considered in this blog series – has been largely dependent on their ability to de-industrialise by evolving towards a service and/or knowledge-based industry, and to build effective transport and distribution links with the UK as a whole.

Water has traditionally played an important role in the economy of the region, from the docks of Liverpool, through the Manchester Ship Canal and the networks of smaller canals that enabled Chester to become a major exporter by sea in the late 19th century. Use of inland shipping has declined somewhat in the last fifty years, but ambitious projects in Manchester and Liverpool could well help to reinvigorate use of these historic waterways as transport and mass transit links, and also as regions for commercial and residential development.

The Northwest of England is now home to more than 255,000 businesses, and the region as a whole is on the up. Manchester is widely regarded as the Capital of the North, and vies with Birmingham for the title of England’s second city. Much of this is driven by a ‘knowledge’ economy – utilising the resources of world-class universities in Manchester and Liverpool to build high and green technology industries in the region. ‘Nearshoring’ operations, too, by major banks like RBS, which take advantage of lower land values and labour costs in the North, have resulted in a growing financial sector in the region as a whole.

Aside from lower land values and wage costs compared with London, one of the main advantages of the Northwest region for businesses is its transport links and centrality in relation to the rest of the UK. Most UK cities are within four hours of Manchester by road, for example. This has led to the reputation of the Northwest as a distribution hub for the whole country, and even internationally. A number of large defence and aviation contractors have chosen to operate from Northwest cities for similar reasons. Historic cities like Liverpool, Chester and Preston also attract tourists in large numbers, giving the region the kind of economic diversity it requires to survive and grow in the volatile economic climate of this century.

The subsequent blogs in this series deal with 5 of the major urban centres in the region, with an historic and economic perspective.


  • The North West is the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution
  • After the Second World War heavy industry and manufacturing took a downturn
  • To thrive cities de-industrialised and developed service and knowledge industries
  • The North West has growing financial and technology sectors
  • The region has become a distribution hub thanks to its central location and transport links
  • Tourism is also a growing industry in some cities

Apr 16, 2015