Businesses globally are facing the crucial question of whether they can adapt and become resilient to the challenges ahead. The Coastal West Sussex Partnership, which sits at a key intersection between local business and the public sector, asked its members how they have adapted.

Caroline Wood, Director at Coastal West Sussex Partnership, explained: “We’d been hearing reports of businesses in the region undergoing significant changes to adapt to the challenges posed. We spoke to a few of them and have been astounded at the quick thinking and innovative tactics used to not just survive in 2020, but to grow and build sustainable futures for their businesses.”

Ricardo is a global engineering, strategic consultancy and manufacturing business headquartered in Shoreham. Ricardo used innovation to support its clients in a newly virtual world.

This meant a world first – delivering vehicle certification remotely in a process that allowed automaker clients and certification bodies to observe tests via a secure live feed to Ricardo’s automation and data management systems. This included checks such as tyre pressure, which would normally be done in person.

Test Operations Director Richard Murphy commented: “Ricardo has been able to quickly adapt our processes to deliver business-critical testing requirements for our global customer base. This digital-first approach protects people while enabling much-needed emissions testing and certification to continue.”

Independent manufacturer Nordell, invested significant capital and resource to modify its capabilities by collaborating with one of its customers to build a state-of-the-art clean room in its Worthing factory. Nordell manufacture a wide range of specialist products which it supplies to customers across a range of sectors. The cleanroom has allowed Nordell to adapt its offer to supply into the medical consumable sector and manufacture products used in the analysis of diseases including Covid-19.

Paul Mason, Managing Director at Nordell, said: “This means we can answer the exceptional demand for medical and laboratory equipment, helping to ensure there are no shortages of these vital goods nationally. It also means we can expand our business into new markets.”

Nordell Cleanroom

James Dempster, Managing Director at Cobb Digital and Vice Chair of the Partnership commented:“During March and April, we lost a third of our business. It was not a pleasant time and, as an optimist, I didn’t open a business to plan for the worst.”

After setting up a business continuity plan, Cobb Digital’s fortunes began to change: “We’re a small creative business. Without speaker opportunities and networking to grow our new business pot, the pandemic forced us to double our digital marketing and hone our messaging. From that effort, we have gained some exciting new clients, including two household names. We’re now back to pre-Covid levels.”

James Dempster, Cobb Digital

Worthing headquartered Allergy Therapeutics, which focuses on immunology for allergies, cancer and infectious diseases, had already adapted in response to Brexit by setting up a new facility in Madrid, Spain. The business was able to expand its Madrid laboratory to conduct Covid-19 diagnosis tests with a maximum capacity of 200,000 tests per year.

Back in coastal West Sussex, Operations Director Bev Lees urges innovations that will help boost the local workforce: “Improvements to transport could help attract more skilled people to the area, giving businesses a stronger pool to hire from. People are unwilling to relocate here because transport represents a challenge, especially the A27. Most of our workforce has a strong local link to Worthing or the coastal West Sussex area.

Bev Lees, Allergy Therapeutics

“A range of incentives could support our local businesses to become more resilient. We could promote the work/life balance possible in this region, and ideas that could help universities convince graduates to stay in the area. Equally, a campaign to help encourage local people into further education and STEM careers could be beneficial as the coast has low uptake in this area.”

It is clear that local businesses with global reach and manufacturing capabilities have the clout to rise phoenix-like from the crisis, and the region is fortunate that its location means many such businesses have chosen it for their headquarters. Much of the local business community is made up of SMEs which can be nimble in their responses to the pandemic thanks to more agile teams.

No matter the size of the business, the message from coastal West Sussex leaders is a united one: infrastructure must be improved, the benefits of the region must be promoted to a wider audience, and local people must have improved access to initiatives aimed at developing skills and building careers.