The West Midlands is the address of nearly 2,000 overseas companies from 34 different nations, employing roughly 9% of the region’s workforce – nearly a quarter of a million people. Birmingham itself can boast of almost 300 overseas companies, which employ over 36,000 people. International and famous companies based in the West Midlands include Peugeot, Ford, BMW, Fujitsu, Oracle, Gap, Denso, IBM, NEC and Johnson Controls.
A little over the last ten years, the West Midlands experienced real economic growth with GDP increasing by around 29%, an additional 240,000 people in employment, a fall in unemployment rates from 12.1% to below 8% (2000), economic activity rate at par with the rest of the country, an employment rate of around 74% (1998-1999 to 2003), higher than the national rate at the start of the three year period (1998-99) and a higher percentage of employees in high technology sectors than the national average in 2000 (Mitra, 2001).
Despite noticeable indicators of development and progress, the West Midlands maintains its status of an under-achieving region. It has underperformed in almost all major areas judging by the economic indicators if overall performance in the UK is used as a standard. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per head in 1999 was 6% below the national average in spite of an increase of nearly 2% from 1998. On the Index of Local Deprivation, the West Midlands has two districts in the top 10 and 6 in the top 50 most deprived areas. In 1997, likewise, the West Midlands had the second lowest manufacturing productivity levels. Gross Value Added per GDP per head has stayed around 6% below the national average throughout the 1990s. Since 1990, unemployment rates have remained above the national average. Finally, the number of VAT- registered businesses has fallen faster than the national average. Compared to EU regions similar to the West Midlands (using the GVA metric), the latter is at par with most other regions and slightly below Bourgogne (France).
SMEs in the West Midlands Economy With statistical trends elsewhere, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) constitute the largest share of all enterprises in the West Midlands.