THE chief executive of Manchester City Council has challenged its business leaders to maintain an appetite for innovation which has given the city a "platform unprecedented in its history”.

Sir Howard Bernstein told the VentureFest Manchester 2015 conference the city must focus on continue to diversify its economy from its traditional roots of production and manufacturing in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

He told a packed hall at Lancashire Cricket Club venue The Point: “We were once a pretty one dimensional economy. It became increasingly important, because of the periods of decline, that we diversified our economic base.

“What we have actually seen in Manchester and other parts of the region, because of that diversification process, is continuing growth. We’ve been able to move our city and our region forward.

“And it’s on the back of that process of change that I think Manchester is now as synonymous with those high value growth sectors as it was in the 50s and 60s around production and more recently commercial and professional services.

“Indeed, something like 50,000 people in Manchester are now employed in science and technology related businesses. That’s quite a remarkable difference to where we were no more than 10 or 15 years ago.”

Sir Howard, who has been chief executive since 1998, hailed the city region’s three universities, The University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan and Salford for helping the the city to develop “on the back of world class research”.

He went on: “We’ve been able to develop some globally distinctive sectors of activity, particularly around life sciences and advanced materials, in the creative and digital programmes.

“We now enjoy a platform which I think is unprecedented in Manchester’s history. And what we now have to do or course is to continue to build on our strengths over the next 10 years or more.

“We have the largest student population in Europe – something like 100,000 students in Greater Manchester, producing more than 25,000 science and technology graduates each year. 

“That’s a remarkable fact which gives even greater cause of confidence in our capacity to grow our science and technology base in the future.

“The world’s first industrialised city that Manchester was, is now leading the way in the field of advanced materials. In particular we are creating a new critical mass of scientists, manufacturers and engineers, innovators and industrialists. 

“We are very fortunate in the Corridor in Manchester to have a very special focus around how some of those great institutions can interact and a way in which we can create more clusters of activity which can drive growth significantly over the next few years.”

Sir Howard said he did not think was any co-incidence that the development of the Corridor had coincided with the growth of Manchester’s diversified business space. 

“Over the next the next five to 10 years we will have the capacity to create at least another 50 to 60,000 jobs in Manchester.

“If the majority of those jobs do not get generated in the Corridor, those jobs are not going to be generated at all. So there should be a particular focus working with our great institutions in the Manchester Science Partnership in order to ensure that we drive that growth.”

The conference, anchor sponsored by Innovate UK was also addressed by Manchester-based co-sponsor Business Growth Hub’s growth manager Lee Frater.

She told TheBusinessDesk the organisation had supported more than 32,000 businesses in the last three years. 

“We’ve had more than12,000 attendees to our events and conferences,” she said. “And we’ve raised £60m for businesses within the region. 

“It’s all about businesses understanding that there is a mechanism for support  available – whether it’s start-up organisations, or growing businesses and taking it to the next level. 

“For me, fundamentally, technology is transforming the way businesses operate. So when you’re looking at saving time.

“Whether you’re looking at saving time, increasing flexibility, mobility, technology enables businesses to be more innovative and actually spend and invest time in areas where previously they would have had to invest in infrastructure.”

Innovate UK’s head of access to finance Nigel Walker echoed Frater’s comments when he said: “We want to see people coming together, innovators, entrepreneurs, investors to stimulate local activity around innovation and business growth and to see connections made leading to businesses doing better, raising capital, coming up with brilliant ideas and growing the economy, both locally and nationally.”

He said the conference had gone really well with many useful workshops. 

“There’s lots of really interesting businesses here,” he said.