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Somerset is at the heart of the South West peninsular, one of the fastest growing regions of the UK. Population, stock of businesses registered for VAT and employment within this region, have all exceeded national rates of growth over the last 15 years and these trends are forecast to continue.

People are often surprised to learn of Somerset's industrial traditions. Over the centuries many of our towns were renowned for certain products, textiles in Taunton and Chard, brick making and engineering in Bridgwater, leather goods and shoe manufacture in Mid-Somerset, gloving in Yeovil, rope making in Crewkerne, foundry work in Frome as well as cider and cheddar cheese production throughout the County.

Today only a few of those traditional industries have survived the passage of time, but that industrial base lives on, though it is now more modern 21st Century businesses that are in the ascendency, offering all the hi-tech services and support expected by today's business community. The business profiles of the major towns have changed over the years - information and communications technology, financial and business services in Taunton; food processing, packaging and distribution in Bridgwater; advanced engineering and aerospace in Yeovil; light engineering in Crewkerne and printing and publishing in Frome and we still continue to make cider and cheddar cheese throughout the County! Somerset today, hosts a modern, dynamic business base, the products of which are exported around the globe.

This successful mixing of old skills with new technologies, large with small, and traditional with the more unusual, has given the County a strength and diversity which has seen it survive the economic ups and downs of the global market. Business is drawn to Somerset by the quality of life, its good communications and superb natural environment. This all leads to an exciting business environment, where innovation and creativity can flourish, develop and be supported.

 

Somerset for Business

In 1998 Somerset's total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was estimated at 5,322 million, 9.5% of the South West regional GDP. The average gross weekly wages in Somerset are shown below:

The level of business activity in the County, as represented by growth in the stock of businesses registered for VAT, has seen a decline from a total of 18,101 in 1992 to 17,000 in 2001, down 6% over the period. However business survival rates exceed many other parts of the South West.

Somerset is a relatively small, open economy. Much of its production is exported to the rest of the UK or overseas. The vast majority of businesses in Somerset employ fewer than 20 employees. Though in spite of the numerical dominance of small firms, 39% of Somerset employees work in companies of over 100 employees.

Type of employment Somerset figure South West figure UK figure
Full-time - Male

Full-time - Female

441.30

347.50

463.30

350.00

513.80

383.40

*Figures from 2002 New Earnings Survey, ONS

 

The total working population of Somerset was 246,000 in 2001. A breakdown of the employment structure of the County reveals that 17% of all employees are in the manufacturing sector, 50% are in the service sector, covering areas such as business and financial services; distribution and tourism related businesses, 25% are involved in public administration, education and health services, 5% in Construction whilst 2% are still connected with agriculture, forestry and fishing.

 

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Mini profiles of the key industrial sectors in Somerset

Food & Drink is a key sector in Somerset, with over 15,000 jobs involved. A third of these jobs relate to agricultural production - dairy and beef farming being at the forefront of this production. Food processing is also well represented, in particular drinks manufacture with everything from fruit juice to cider brandy being produced in the County. Gerber Foods (Soft Drinks) Ltd in Bridgwater are the largest producer of fruit juices in Europe, producing brands such as 'Sunny Delight' and 'Ocean Spray'. Ready meal production has been another growth area, amongst the UK market leaders are Oscar Mayer Ltd of Chard. Development amongst the milk based industries has resulted in the production of vast ranges of cheeses, desserts and yoghurts.

Yeo Valley Organics Ltd. at Cannington are producers of the best selling natural yoghurt in the UK, they currently have 4.5% of the UK yoghurt market, whilst Ilchester Cheese Ltd., are the UK's leading speciality cheese manufacturer, producing over 500 tonnes of cheese annually.

In Somerset, the Aerospace and Advanced Engineering sector provides 9,500 jobs. The main employer in the sector is GKN Westland Helicopters based in Yeovil. Most Royal Navy vessels which operate helicopters will be flying a Westland made machine. Other companies include the French owned Thales Group, which have three separate facilities in the County, with their optronics facility in Taunton, their underwater systems division at Templecombe and their defence systems facility at Wells. The presence of these larger manufacturers in Somerset has seen the emergence of local supply networks, made up of small specialised engineering concerns who have the skills and expertise to be able to meet the often one off demands of the larger manufacturers. This wealth of expertise is a major asset to the County.

Printing and Packaging is a small specialist sector in the County, employing about 3,100 people. It ranges from the small local printer to Butler & Tanner of Frome, major UK book printers. Another major printer with global connections is Haynes Publishing renowned for their DIY car manuals.

On the packaging side, Somerset produces everything from cellophane wrappers for sweets (UCB Cellophane at Bridgwater) to plastic bottles for fruit juices (Logoplast, Bridgwater).

The Business Support and Financial Service Sector is a growing market in Somerset. A number of small call centres dealing with specialised markets, have emerged. An example in Yeovil is Screwfix Direct Ltd, who have their headquarters and call centre in the town. They handle up to 15,000 calls a day and despatch 3,000 items every week across the UK. Leading health insurance provider Western Provident Association (WPA) moved from Bristol to relocate their headquarters to Taunton, taking up a prominent location on the prestigious Blackbrook Business Park. They've been joined by a number of other business support operations, amongst them Clarke Willmott and Clarke Solicitors and Booking Services International.

A traditional industry that has survived the passage of time is the Leather Industry. Whilst it is no longer the major employer in the County it once was, this is still a significant industry. Clarks Shoes have their headquarters in Street and, although most of their production is now carried out overseas, they still make children's shoes in their Ilminster factory. In Yeovil, Pittards are a major exporter of technical leather products to both the sports and fashion industry, whilst in Shepton Mallet, Mulberrys have gained a world-wide reputation for the production of stylish leather accessories.

Somerset's Tourism and Leisure industry accounts for 15% of the County's total GDP. It is estimated that 30,000 jobs are directly or indirectly supported by tourism expenditure, with day and staying visitors spending around 900 million per year in the County. This important sector relies heavily on the exceptional natural environment and superb quality of life, and one of the key issues facing the authorities is trying to maintain the balance between the demands of this sector and others for increased development whilst preserving the existing environment.

 

Business Land & Property Availability

In the last decade the development of new business parks means that close to every exit from the M5 Motorway in Somerset good quality sites and premises are available for business use - the motorway interchanges at Highbridge, Bridgwater, Taunton, Wellington, can each provide opportunities for new business investment.

In the south of the County the A303 provides another artery into the County, linking to the M3 Motorway which flows into London and the South East of England. Along its route in Somerset the towns of Wincanton, Yeovil and Ilminster again offer opportunities to businesses seeking sites and premises.

The smaller Somerset market towns such as Shepton Mallet, Glastonbury and Frome to the east, Chard and Crewkerne to the south, Cheddar to the north, Wiveliscombe and Minehead to the west, can all provide smaller opportunities for business investment.

If you are looking for industrial premises or thinking of relocating to the County, then the Local Authorities in Somerset are always happy to assist. They produce registers of available sites and premises, and can help identify the right location for your businesses. To contact them, turn to the useful contacts section.

Some Information re: Planning (policy & procedures) With the exception of specialist areas such as minerals and waste, most planning applications are dealt with by the relevant district/borough councils and the Exmoor National Park Authority. Planning applications will only usually be approved by the relevant local planning authority where they are consistent with the policies contained in the Development Plan.

7C.GIF - Click to expandWithin Somerset the Development Plan comprises two elements - the Joint Structure Plan ( prepared by Somerset County Council and Exmoor National Park Authority) and area-wide Local Plans, (prepared by the district/borough councils.) The Development Plan contributes towards the Government's national strategy of sustainable development which has four main elements that should be given equal consideration in the determination of future land-use development :-

Useful Contacts
See Useful Contacts section