Centre of Industry and Enterprise Case Study

Company: FFEI Limited – www.ffei.co.uk
Key Industry: Digital Technology
Key Sector: Design and Manufacture

Overview

FFEI design and manufacture digital imaging technologies for both the printing and life science markets. It designs amazing products which are helping to push the boundaries of digital pathology with the goal of helping save lives. The technology can capture digital images of human tissue at sub-cellular resolution, revolutionising the analysis of cancer and diseases.

Hemel Hempstead has an industrial and business heritage known for brick and paper making, firework manufacture and newspaper publishing. Whilst many know Hemel Hempstead as a major residential town with a “magic” roundabout, it is also home to some very well-known brands such as Amazon, Bourne Leisure, Britvic, Next, ASOS, BSI, Atlas Copco, Gyron and Sopra Steria. On Maylands Business Park alone there are over 500 businesses – local, national and international, making it the largest in the South East.

The Challenge

10 years ago the FFEI premises were completely destroyed by the Buncefield explosion. Being the closest ‘non-oil’ related building to the blast, the resulting pile of rubble was referred to by the insurance company as ‘a total loss’. Managing Director, Andy Cook, referred to it as an ‘oh crap’ moment! Little did he know at the time that it was the beginning of a big change for the business and for the local area. Far from being an ‘oh crap’ moment, it was much more a ‘Genesis moment’ for Hemel Hempstead – and through the endeavours of many local groups the creation of something new.

The Solution

In 2013, the three business partners decided to invest almost £2m of their own hard earned money to purchase a property in Maylands Business Park for their business to operate from, only a few hundred metres from the site destroyed by Buncefield.

They took that big step for two reasons; firstly they wanted the cost advantage and flexibility of being their own landlord but perhaps most importantly, having lived and worked in the area for 27 years, concluded that Hemel Hempstead was at a tipping point in its development and therefore potentially a great investment opportunity for long term growth.

The benefits of being located in a vibrant business community shouldn’t be under estimated. Good businesses attract good businesses. Because good businesses attract great staff, they attract support businesses, like caterers, IT support and cleaning companies etc. A vibrant business community draws in infrastructure, investment and talent. Hemel Hempstead has just that. There is a broad diversity of great businesses attracting more and more great businesses in all sorts of sectors from technology, IT, logistics, manufacturing and service.

Hemel enjoys a uniquely business orientated, forward looking and supportive local council who have become comfortable engaging and supporting businesses positively. Over the past 10 years the local council has developed innovative approaches to supporting the business community, creating business networks, support systems and help for not only small start-ups but also the bigger companies, offering apprenticeship schemes, business advice and workshops, public transport links and commuter green travel initiatives, staff development and support.

Dacorum Borough Council has one of the most progressive approaches to encouraging businesses. One of the many success stories championed by the council has been the Maylands Business Centre which provides short term lease offices and industrial units with business support to small and start-up companies. Opened in 2011 the centre was fully occupied in its first year with over 30 companies, which has grown to over 60 now using the virtual offices support – it’s a great way to help new local businesses out of their living rooms and on to a growth path.

Finally, Hemel provides access to a very broad range of employees ranging it skills, education and age. The area is quite unusual in its diversity of population, probably created from being a new town but hugely important to businesses like FFEI with the need to access to good quality, hardworking and loyal staff. Hemel Hempstead has a rich supply of talent and we even see enthusiasm from the local schools to engage with businesses through various projects and initiatives. All of this underpins just why it’s such an ideal location for business.

The Result

FFEI now has just under 100 people based in Hemel Hempstead made up of a very diverse workforce of PhD’s, graduate design engineers, manufacturing, logistics and admin staff. The company employ the unskilled to the highly skilled, school leavers to experienced over 65 year olds.

Most of the business is exported to countries like China, India and North America. It is a company that prides itself in making real products that compete in global markets and is proud to be located in the heart of Hemel Hempstead’s Maylands Business Park.

Andy Cook, Managing Director for FFEI says, “In Hemel’s roots there is a contagious entrepreneurial spirit that pervades the area and acts as stimulant for new companies; hence the success of the businesses and brands, that have made their home here.

“I’m pleased to say we’re one of many companies doing great things in their respective markets – getting our story out there, getting Hemel Hempstead talked about, and thought about, will help us to continue to build a thriving economy and help businesses attract the right people with the right skills to help them grow and be competitive.

Hemel Hempstead is a place you can do business”.

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