As most islanders know only too well, for generations the local economy has been built on the twin pillars of agriculture and tourism. But, more and more, it’s being recognised that the infrastructure is already in place, or will soon be on its way, to facilitate the growth of a thriving IT and technology sector too. With a changing climate affecting farming of every kind, as well as the shifting holiday habits of the UK population, this is also increasingly becoming not just desirable, but possibly a necessity too.
Fuelled by the Digital Island Strategy, the connectedness of the island is coming on at a fast pace; one element that may have slowed the progress in the past but should make a difference in the future. This is especially relevant not simply for internal island connections, but also in creating virtual connections with the mainland that are high speed and efficient.
Already, Hampshire has a high concentration of tech and digital companies and the region is recognised as being one of the fastest-growing clusters for these kinds of businesses. Not only are the big multinationals attracted to the region, but it’s also a very fertile area for start-ups too. Part of the appeal for both is the relative ease of access to London combined with the far lower costs of premises, along with the lower salary expectations of employees compared with those working in the capital.
There are also many networks and organisations that have been set up on the mainland to create a real community and business support ecosystem dedicated to promoting the health of the whole region. While we do have the hard-working and dedicated Isle of Wight Technology Group as well as the Chamber of Commerce, still more impetus may be needed if tech businesses really will become a mainstay of the island’s economy.
Of course, that’s not to say that there aren’t already some great examples of tech companies operating on the Isle of Wight, with Shanklin’s Innovative Physics and Vestas wind turbine plant at Newport being two of the largest.
Turning to which particular sectors tech firms on the island could service, perhaps they could look to two other islands in Europe. Both Gibraltar and Malta have carved out a niche for themselves in online gambling, an industry that relies on constant technological innovation to continue attracting players. For example, the relatively new game of slingo bingo was introduced as a crossover between slots games and bingo and has already proved very popular with players on leading iGaming platforms.
There’s no reason at all why businesses developing both games like this, and video games in general, couldn’t thrive here as well. As to who could work in these businesses, there is no shortage of up and coming home-grown talent with an interest in staying on the island – as a recent careers event at Ryde Academy demonstrated.
So, it would appear that we’re well placed to be on the verge of a tech revolution. Now we just need a few key elements to fall into place before it can really happen.