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Exploring the potential of the Northwest’s small firms to drive forward the UK’s economic recovery

An in-depth study - commissioned by Private Sector Partners NW Ltd and undertaken by MMU Centre for Enterprise - highlights five 'invisible forms of growth' by small businesses.


There are high expectations that small firms will step in to create new jobs in English regions affected by public sector reductions. This six-month project (May – October 2013) sought to assess conditions likely to support their potential to do so.  The emphasis was on utilizing the expertise of small firms themselves to advance understanding of ways they can generate wealth and value, and create employment.

  • We reviewed published evidence from academic and policy oriented literature
  • We asked business owners in the region to share their experiences of  growth via an on line poll.
  • Business owners participated in two facilitated workshops on the realities of small business growth.

The research team reviewed published evidence, then explored the variety of ways that small businesses are contributing to economic recovery by asking business leaders about their business experiences and ambitions, firstly via an on-line poll and then in facilitated workshops.

Key Findings

The potential for a few ‘high growth’ businesses to generate a disproportionately large proportion of jobs has been widely reported but it is increasingly clear, from an emerging body of statistical evidence that exceptional high growth businesses are only part of the story. There are ways of generating new economic activity that do not fit that model. Business leaders described a variety of alternative means of growth:

  • Forming temporary alliances to undertake large projects
  • Forming partnerships to increase capacity
  • Building networks
  • Diversifying into new or related markets
  • Creating new small businesses, portfolio entrepreneurship
  • Creating a reputation for excellence and quality
  • Supporting local communities for example by sourcing supplies locally