“Manchester is booming,” says Graham Benson, CIO of online car rental aggregator Rentalcars.com. Although now part of the Priceline Group giant of online estates, rentalcars.com is a Manchester born and bred business, firstly as TravelJigsaw, before its acquisition in 2010.
Benson has been in pure online business in senior business technology leadership roles since 2004 when he left Screwfix, the wholesale retailer to the construction industry. Now as Chairman of the Board at Manchester Digital he is over flowing with passion and enthusiasm for the zeitgeist in the city dubbed the capital of the Northern Powerhouse. While politicians, and in particular the Chancellor, try to claim credit for the boom, Benson and organisations like Rentalcars.com are actually powering the house.
“We are the largest technology business outside of London and we are proud of that,” he tells me during a visit to the inspiring headquarters right in the centre of Manchester. “There is a real push socially and politically to de-centralise from London, started by the BBC.
“Manchester is uniquely placed as it has always been a cultural city that has good transport links, so practically it makes sense for business. There is also the attraction of business costs being lower,” Benson says. “Success breeds success and we’ve got some great dot com businesses here, so it is a virtuous circle. Which also means it is a virtuous circle as an employer,” Benson says in reference to the talent pool available in Manchester.
“LateRooms.com, Boohoo.com, Autotrader.com and Direct Line all have a major online presence here, and I am only naming a few of the big online players in our city.”
Manchester’s industrial history is also beneficial, Benson says that in particular the apparel industry heritage of the city means online fashion businesses have done especially well. But one of the main reasons Manchester is booming is due to its infrastructure.
“The trams are superb, public transport is good and the road system copes reasonably well with then volumes of traffic that it has to handle. I have become a public transport convert.”
As you look out from the offices of rentalcars.com the skyline is dotted with cranes, testament to the powerhouse claims. Such is the passion and opportunity in the city, that Manchester Digital (the industry association for the growing digital business community) is thriving with nearly 500 trade members, and 12,000 Twitter followers. Manchester Digital provides talent matching, training, peer support and specific events and membership is open to anyone in Manchester connected to the digital economy.