In 2020, the year that none of us will ever forget, I had considered carefully whether the annual search for the fastest growing firms in Wales should be cancelled. Certainly, it became obvious that we could not hold the annual awards dinner which is one of the highlights of the Welsh business calendar every year.
However, as the economy battles to emerge from recession, it is clear that we need more than ever to celebrate the creativity, innovation and sheer determination of the best of Welsh businesses, something that was clearly emphasised by those many firms that, despite the lockdown we suffered earlier this year, wanted to be considered for the Wales Fast Growth 50.
Like other businesses across Wales, the majority of those featured on the 2020 list had been hit hard by the lockdown in March and yet they have survived, recovered and, more importantly have started growing again, with a number registering their best quarter of trading during the summer.
They have made significant changes to the way they operate over the last few months, becoming more flexible in the approach to delivering to customers.
Some that were already delivering their services online have been able to make a seamless transition to working from home with the majority of services minimally affected. Others, such as Tenby-based Bodysocks, have pivoted their business in the face of reduced trade to establish a wholly new enterprise that is already achieved incredible growth.
This demonstrates yet again that despite considerable setbacks, fast growing firms will continue to make a significant contribution to sectors and communities across Wales. In fact, since the project was established in 1999, the 652 firms that have appeared on the twenty two lists are estimated to have created 44,000 jobs and to generate £25 billion of additional turnover, much of which is spent in their local area.
And the impact of the 2020 group of the fastest growing firms is no exception, generating a collective turnover of £444 million and employing nearly 2600 people in 2019. More importantly, they produced an additional £280 million in turnover during the period 2017-2019 at an average growth rate of 171 per cent, higher than in 2019.
Together, these fifty businesses have created over 1,300 new jobs in just two years, doubling their workforce and demonstrating their continuing importance across the Welsh economy. The major job creators between 2017 and 2019 were The Consumer Helpline (143 jobs), Total Care Services (111 jobs) and Indigo Group Holdings (103 jobs).
In 2020, the average age of a fast-growing Welsh firm is nine years old, which is younger than for previous years and the fastest growing sectors are business to business services, which account for over a third of all firms, followed by construction and building services.
By location, fast growing firms were to be found in fourteen Welsh counties with fourteen businesses located in Cardiff and eight in Swansea. Fifteen fast growth firms were based in the South Wales valleys and only two in North Wales, the lowest ever tally for the region.
There are twenty-four new entrants on the 2020 Fast Growth 50 with three firms – Amser Building Services, Employ Staff and 2015 overall winner Evabuild - returning to the list after an absence of several years. In terms of sustainable growth, online retailer Character.com makes it six years in a row on the list.
It is also worth noting that those that have won the sectoral awards this year – overall winner Creating Enterprise, Freight Logistics Solutions, Vetro Health, Trueform, Bad Wolf, Trakcel and Countrywide Hearing – won the same categories in 2019, which suggests that a smaller cohort of firms are growing quickly in Wales.
Therefore, this year has not been easy for any business in Wales including those on the Fast Growth 50 list. Indeed, the decline in sales of many businesses in 2020 could mean that we have a very different list of firms next year although it worth noting that after the last recession when nearly 90,000 jobs were lost across the private sector in Wales and markets were drying up, the 2010 Fast Growth 50 list bucked the trend, creating 1400 new jobs and increasing their sales by an incredible £305 million between 2007 and 2009.
Hopefully, we will see the same in 2021 as the Wales Fast Growth 50 continues to be a shining beacon of the best that Wales has to offer. Certainly, we should all be proud of the success of those businesses that have made the list since 1999 and especially to the fifty firms which are the fastest growing firms in Wales in 2020. I wish them all every success for the future.