Sheffield is well known for its manufacturing past but what lies ahead for its future? Just this month British supercar builders McLaren announced their plans for a £50m centre in the city, but its not just British manufacturers being drawn to the bright lights of the steel city.
JUS News spoke to Boeing’s Director of UK Communications Matthew Knowles about the company’s plans to build a £20m facility in Sheffield and how the University of Sheffield is set to be the wind beneath the wings for a new generation of aircraft.
Despite being an American corporate giant, Boeing has been working with the UK since the early 1930’s and has become a staple of British aviation. Their newly proposed facility would be the first of its kind in Europe.
At a time when Brexit fears loomed, Boeing made a bold promise to the British government at Farnborough airshow. Only moments after the 2016 EU referendum it said it would double its business presence here. They’re not the only group to announce big plans for Sheffield post-Brexit, with Amazon and McLaren also unveiling site plans.
“The nature of a global company is that you manage local political changes in circumstance as you go along. The UK, Sheffield in particular, has got that expertise that we need to partner with,” said Matt.
The company has already doubled its UK employment base in the last five years and more than doubled its spending with supply chains. According to Matt this is only the beginning for Boeing’s partnership with British manufacturers.
“Sheffield is certainly an attractive region for us, but the UK has certainly got a lot going for it and that’s why we’re growing here as we look to the future,” he said.
The facility will take on just thirty people at first, increasing the volume of workers steadily over time, but its the ripple effect on the local economy that could be huge for Sheffield’s manufacturers. Matt hopes the decision to source materials locally will encourage competition between manufacturers as they bid for business with Boeing.
“The idea is that our systems will be made from materials sourced in the country and the opportunity is obviously there for local people to seek employment in the factory as well as with the supply chain locally.”
The fact Boeing chose Sheffield for their new site is no accident. Back in 2001, in partnership with the University of Sheffield, they established the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC). The centre for excellence employs around 1,600 people and delivers training to several hundred apprentices every year. This partnership will continue to go from strength to strength as the company directly applies research from the centre into the manufacturing process at the new facility.
The company was also attracted to the steel city because of its manufacturing past, excited by the possibility of generating new manufacturing opportunities for the city.
Professor Keith Ridgway, Executive Dean of the AMRC said: “It has always been our ambition that one day Boeing would open a manufacturing facility in Sheffield. This announcement is the culmination of a successful relationship that has developed since the AMRC with Boeing was founded 16 years ago.”
The new facility will manufacture actuation systems, systems which give the airplane wing tips more lift during low speed take offs. This means the AMRC could very well be the wind beneath the wings of the next generation of 737 and 777 aircraft.
This news was certainly music to the ears of the University of Sheffield who regularly encourage global trade within the city.
Professor Sir Keith Burnett, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, said that the plans could mark “a new Industrial Revolution for the UK – one centered on science and innovation, but working hand-in-hand with industry” and added that he was “deeply proud that leading global companies recognise that Made in Sheffield still remains a hallmark of quality”.
Boeing is careful not to get ahead of itself, as they must first secure planning permission for the proposed site and this will involve clearing their plans with a local planning committee and holding a local consultation with residents. Matt stressed the plans where still in their infancy but remained quietly optimistic that Boeing’s plans could really take off in the city.
“We’ll be providing all the appropriate information to allow them to make that decision, but its been very well received news so far. We hope to continue building on that partnership locally with the authorities there,” he said.