North Wales is still open for business after the Brexit vote to quit the European Union.
That was the message to business leaders in Wrexham from Welsh Government Economy and Infrastructure Secretary Ken Skates.
Mr Skates, who is also the AM for Clwyd South, said every effort was being made to secure cross border working opportunities and to mitigate any negative effects of Brexit on the economic stability of the region.
The assurance was delivered at a breakfast meeting of Wrexham Business Professionals at the town’s Ramada hotel.
The influential group is made up of successful businesses and highly skilled professional firms of solicitors, accountants and other business professionals working together to raise the profile of enterprise and expertise that exists in the region and beyond.
According to Mr Skates, the success of the Wales soccer squad at the Euros 2016 tournament was a prime opportunity to turn more of the world’s eyes on Wales.
The football festivities had put ‘Brand Wales’ in the global spotlight, according to another speaker, Mr Skates said the Welsh Government will demand full involvement in talks formulating the terms for UK withdrawal from the EU.
In the interim, he said, the focus is firmly on maintaining positivity and confidence, and continuing to market Wales as an attractive place for British, European and global businesses to invest in.
“Wales is open for business and will remain open for business.”
The audience made up of scores of local entrepreneurs, high level managers and company directors listened intently to Mr Skates, who headlined the morning’s agenda, followed by further talks from Chris Nott, chairman of the Welsh Government financial and professional services sector panel and Paul Barlow, site lead of Wrexham-based financial services company DTCC.
Wrexham Business Professionals chair Gill Kreft, of Pendine Park care organisation led the meeting.
She said Brexit absorbed the conversation as members gathered for refreshments in the run up to the talks. There was also much concern about future staffing opportunities and skills development.
She said: “We are in interesting, uncertain times, which makes the theme of our meeting on powering regional prosperity and the role of financial services, all the more relevant.”
Mr Skates, a remain campaigner in the EU referendum, still believed the interests of Wales were best served by close relations with Europe but he accepted the result of the vote.
He said it was too soon to predict the exact impact of Brexit on all sections of the economy but he would not put the brakes on the Welsh Government’s outward looking policies. He and government colleagues would work to sustain a vibrant, dynamic economy and to ensure that Wales’s reputation for tolerance and fairness is in no way diminished.
He told the meeting: “It is too early to say with absolute certainty what will happen in the aftermath of Brexit but our focus must now be on delivering a programme of ensuring stability. And for that we need your support as business professionals to help create a palpable feeling of confidence across Wales.”
He was developing a new economic strategy which would take account of the changing landscape and he called on private enterprise to contribute to it.
Professional bodies had an important role in driving forward economic growth and the substantial gains made in North Wales, particularly in developing tourism, over recent years, must not be blown off course.
The aim would continue to be to boost prosperity for Welsh workers and their families and ensure Wales is the best place for businesses to grow and develop.
Chris Nott spoke of the positive benefits of working on the Welsh Government financial and professional services sector panel. It was not just a talking shop, he said, but a genuine opportunity for the private sector to have access to and to potentially influence government decision making.
“Last year saw the highest ever inward investment statistics in Wales with lots of high quality people doing high quality work,” he said. It was important for that momentum to continue un-stalled.
Paul Barlow, Paul Barlow says the town is a “great place to do business” and this should be shouted from the rooftops.
He stressed the need for continued investment in skills development, vocational qualifications and apprenticeships to underpin the staffing base of North Wales.
He said a company’s staff was its biggest asset and their workforce in Wrexham was one of the most talented, diverse and highly motivated he had ever encountered.
The company now employed more than 550 people who between them spoke 27 different languages.
Such skills and diversity were highly prized by enterprises across the UK and also in the USA branch of the company whose original decision to invest in Wrexham was not, he said, dependent on Britain’s membership of the EU.