“The potential has always been there – Mira is an established business that more than held its own during the recession. Indeed, during the past couple of years the success of the business has pushed us towards making what will be a huge investment. The technology park, for instance, is virtually full: we simply have to expand.”
Mira has identified low-carbon vehicles, intelligent mobility and defence as potential boom areas for its range of engineering services. Gillespie says that he sees huge potential for expanding overseas, with export markets serviced by the Nuneaton facility. “We will be looking to gain a significant foothold in China, India, Korea, Brazil, Japan and the US, enabling us to feed work back home. British engineering is still held in high regard around the world and we have the intellectual horsepower to help customers based in these overseas markets,” he says.
In 2010 Mira recruited 70 staff and its continued growth in the UK alone is expected to generate more than 400 jobs over a 10-year period and another 1,500 in the supply chain. It has also invested in its skills base by establishing a thriving apprenticeship scheme. “Skill shortages are a long-term problem and we want to do our bit to alleviate them,” says Gillespie.
It’s not just well-known companies with access to big budgets that have decided to bite the bullet and invest to grow their businesses. Proto Labs, for instance, is a relatively small injection moulding and CNC machining firm based in Telford, Shropshire. The company has recorded double-digit growth in recent years by sticking to a simple business model – customers upload their CAD models, and Proto Labs uses its injection moulding machines to make parts from resins such as polypropylene, acetal and nylon or CNC machines to make parts from materials such as aluminium in as little as one day. Speed and accuracy is of the essence – and that has required continued investment in new equipment.
“The company has been built on its ability to turn work round quickly and to a high standard and to enable us to handle new materials and larger geometries,” says John Tumelty, managing director of Proto Labs. “We have had to have the courage to invest – we have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on CNC machines and injection moulding equipment and we are also moving into a new 130,000ft2 facility in Telford in anticipation of continued expansion over the next five years. The investment plans are about showing commitment, and they also send the right message to staff and customers alike.”
Tumelty says that he understands why other companies are hesitant about investing after the ups and downs of the past couple of years, but he sees it as an absolute business requirement. “I’ve always been of the mind that you’ve got to have faith in your business and not rest on your laurels. If you stop investing, it’s the death knell for your business,” he says. Tumelty says that some of the world’s most successful companies act as perfect examples of this. “Apple might have the iPhone 4, but you can bet that version 5 already exists as a prototype, version 6 is already in development and version 7 is already on the drawing board. If you don’t invest then I’m afraid you will get left behind,” he says.
Tumelty says his positive attitude has helped to drive Proto Labs forward at a time when other businesses have stalled. He believes the firm is still a long way from seeing a plateau in its sales, and he plans to recruit another 30 staff this year, taking the overall figure to 130 employees.
“Market conditions are good and we want to capitalise on that,” he says. “Product development has come back to life in a really strong way. The UK held up quite well anyway, but countries like France, Switzerland and Italy are now recording stunning growth too. Our January orders were amazing and there is a feeling of real buoyancy.”