As this blog is published the Jersey Chamber of Commerce is hosting a lunch on the future of St Helier. This is just one example of how public and political interest in improving St Helier as a ‘vibrant capital where people want to live, spend time and invest’ is materialising into action. So what part does the Digital Sector play in the revival of Jersey’s only town?
Research has found that the ‘New Industries’ of digital, creative and professional services, tend to locate in cities. This is because the density offered by urban environments offers likeminded people the opportunity to share knowledge and experience, both between companies in the same sector and companies in different sectors. This flow of knowledge ultimately boosts innovation and productivity.
So, to what extent does this urban clustering of digital businesses apply to Jersey? Using Population Office data on the operating address of digital businesses, we can see a fascinating trend emerging. As the finance industry increasingly relocates to new grade A office space along he Esplanade, the older, smaller commercial buildings along Grenville Street, Mulcaster Street and New Street/Union Street are increasingly being renovated to meet the needs of the digital sector and a growing population. For instance, along Granville Street, Forum 3 is almost fully occupied by digital SMEs, while Forum 1 houses JT Global, and three nearby office blocks have been transformed into apartments. This investment has breathed new life into the area, benefitting both the digital sector and St Helier.
As these ‘New Industries’ increasingly drive global growth and productivity, Jersey’s economic success will increasingly depend on the location decisions of these businesses. Understanding the motives behind their decisions and the part played by St Helier in creating a vibrant environment which encourages knowledge to be shared and created will by key to our success.
So what can be done to attract and retain these footloose digital businesses and the associated investment they stimulate? The regeneration of St Helier is certainly a big piece of the puzzle. Most research into the success of urban regeneration has found the fusion of high density, commercial, residential and leisure schemes have the greatest impact on the vibrancy of an urban area. In this regard St Helier has much room for improvement.
For instance, if St Helier had the same population density as Paris its population would increase six-fold. Put differently, if its population grew by 1,500 annually for the foreseeable future, it would have a population density the same as that of Geneva by 2065, a city regularly ranked in the global top ten for quality of living. This is reinforced by census data which shows that contrary to perceptions between 1891 and 2001 St Helier’s population density actually fell, with the population dropping from 29,133 to 28,310. Though by 2011 the population had seen modest growth, increasing to 33,522. Compared with other major digital clusters St Helier has a very low population density.
As we move into the next year we need to consider what more can be done to encourage the already growing concentration of digital businesses in St Helier, and how we as Digital Jersey can play our part in encouraging knowledge to be shared and created. Doing so will feed into our economic success and help build a livelier capital.