Gwent is an important focus of NatWest Cymru’s work to support more businesses and help the Welsh economy grow. Adrian Aurelius, chairman of the NatWest Cymru Board, explains why he believes Gwent has an important role to play in Wales’ economic fortunes...

Think Welsh economy and many analysts and commentators will think Cardiff as being the epicentre of growth, innovation and prosperity. Yet the reality is very different.

Gwent too is a burgeoning economic region where businesses across multiple sectors are contributing to the growth of the Welsh economy. And due to its geography close to the English border – which will soon be void of toll charges – the county boasts a unique and preferential opportunity to enhance its standing with the draw of new business and investors from the South West.

This injection of new-found confidence is already being seen along the M4 corridor between Monmouthshire and Newport with new businesses relocating and investing in commercial sites. Comparatively, land values versus those in Bristol are significantly cheaper here, while the abolition of tolls on the Prince of Wales Bridge has meant Gwent’s infrastructures are now very attractive.

Investment aside, Gwent’s existing eco-system of businesses, from SMEs through to larger scale corporates, is already delivering excellent innovation and results providing huge hope for the future.

Take for example the county’s commercial and corporate sector.

Here NatWest Cymru is financially supporting businesses with a combined turnover of more than £1.2bn through funding of nearly £100m. These businesses are major employers supporting a wider eco-system through supply chains and trade that is generating even greater financial returns for the Welsh economy. In total we are supporting nearly 5,000 businesses in Gwent with a collective turnover of more than £2.1bn.

In our most recent Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) report for Wales, which included businesses surveyed in Gwent, we saw robust business conditions fuelled by strong sales and orders and extra staff being hired at their fastest pace for more than 12 months. This has led to a confidence that demand will support output over the coming 12 months pointing to an encouraging level of optimism for 2019.

Within this manufacturers and service providers are markedly raising their outputs – two sectors that are important to Gwent’s economy – while the private sector is driving growth through new client acquisitions resulting in investment in new technology and new product launches.

Importantly, Gwent’s diverse economy of sectors from manufacturing, construction and agriculture to creative, technology and IT means it has the supply chain of businesses and skillsets needed to support these companies in their growth.

It would be wrong however, not to acknowledge the concerns some businesses in Gwent have regarding Brexit. Speak to any of our relationship managers – particularly those whose customers import or export from the EU – and they will speak of the Brexit uncertainty that is holding them back from investing and committing strategically in the longer term.

Planning ahead is crucial to any business, but it is understandable why those affected by Brexit are finding it difficult to do so and why some, for example, are ‘sweating’ assets longer than they ordinarily would.

Let’s not deter though from the positive growth Gwent and Wales as a whole has enjoyed this year thanks to the hard work and efforts of employers and their employees.

What is paramount to the continued success of these businesses is having access to the funding and support they need whatever the economic picture 2019 presents. And crucially this is how we have differentiated ourselves as a bank by firstly, making sure significant funding is available for Gwent’s SMEs and larger employers, and secondly, making sure they are supported by people who understand their sector and business.

In many ways the latter is more important than the funding we provide. By investing in specialists such as our relationship managers, business growth enablers, and Women in Business champions, we’re ensuring entrepreneurs and businesses get the tailored, professional support they need to start or scale-up their companies.

I am optimistic for Gwent businesses in 2019. I live in the county and see first-hand how we are helping record numbers of businesses here grow and although we can’t predict the future, these businesses can be assured that NatWest Cymru will continue working tirelessly to support them. Our overriding goal has and always will be to help these businesses succeed.