The Roman Ninth Legion, Ivar the Boneless and the insurance company Hiscox may not have a lot in common, but they all chose York as a major base for their operations.
Perhaps reassuringly for Hiscox, who moved into their £19 million office building (complete with decommissioned rocket in the foyer) in 2015, both the Romans and the Vikings made a success of their respective arrivals and left a lasting legacy in the city.
A lot changes over time, but at various points over the last 2,000 years or so people have chosen York as the place to be.
The rich history has left a legacy of fine buildings, including The Minster, what may be Europe’s best-preserved Medieval street, Georgian townhouses and the Victorian railway station.
The city is consistently rated as one of the best places to live in the UK, for example, in The Times survey of 2019.
York has countered the decline of the railways and related industries and big corporate chocolate manufacturing with a more diverse commercial base better suited to future market needs.
The rise of a new generation of ‘choco-preneurs’ epitomises modern business development. Often local, artisan at heart, but capable of using modern communication, technology and distribution methods to reach national and global markets. The provision of craft beers and gins is another aspect of the same phenomenon.
It is a mistake to think that these businesses are a fashion that will wane. There will inevitably be market consolidation as there always is, but these businesses have grown organically on sound foundations. There is, and will continue to be, a strong demand for the products they offer to consumers.
In a highly symbolic development The Shambles, with its housing from the 14th century onwards, now has fibre optic cable beneath its cobbles, giving internet speeds of up to 1000Mbps. Supported by local and national Government the recent installation illustrates that heritage and tourism alone is not enough. Businesses must have the tools they need to do the job in the 21st century. Billing itself as the UK’s first ‘gigabit city’, top class digital connectivity will no doubt attract more business and investment.
The strength of the universities is also important. Businesses are increasingly based on technological innovation and commercialisation of knowledge. Academic research and partnerships are key to many of tomorrow’s business success stories.
Looking at the more established major businesses that have their headquarters in York, the striking aspect is their diversity. They include housebuilders, shoe manufacturers, sportswear and leisure companies, makers of animal care products and services and medical diagnostic equipment. Other national and international companies are also well represented.
Finally, marking it out as a very special place, York is the only city in England other than Canterbury to have an Archbishop. At the Synod of Whitby, which took place after the departure of the Romans (but before the arrival of the Vikings), it was decided that an Archbishop of York would have ecclesiastical oversight of the North of England as is still the case to this day.
York is a unique city and a great place to live, work and be in business.