MORE than 200 industry chiefs from across the North West attended a forum designed to promote business in South Lakeland.

The South Lakeland Economic Forum event was organised by South Lakeland District Council (SLDC) in partnership with online publication, North West Business Insider.

Business people, funding experts and SLDC officials told the forum that there is a huge amount of support available to firms looking to locate, grow or start up.

Participants learned about council’s Local Plan which has identified 20 key sites for business development across the district. They agreed that the way forward is to focus on promoting South Lakeland’s strong and diverse economy.

Audience members, who were mainly from the Greater Manchester and Merseyside areas, heard from speakers representing BAE Systems, Cumbria Tourism, Barclays, Lake District Estates, Russell Armer Homes, GSK, Lakeland, Hawkshead Relish, RGF growth programme, the Herdy Company, the North West Fund, Kendal College and Siemens Subsea.

SLDC chief executive, Lawrence Conway, said: “We’ve seen a huge amount of positivity in the forum and people have told me it has led them to think differently about investing in the area.

“The event has been an excellent display of the confidence and ambition that there is in South Lakeland. We have the skills base, the transport infrastructure, the environment and the people. We’re keen to promote the business opportunities in South Lakeland to as many people as possible.”

Managing director of Lakeland Ltd, Sam Rayner, said: “Business in South Lakeland is fantastic. As a local family, we wanted to stay here. Our family believes in the quality of the people and the work ethic is worth a great deal.

“We have a history of great start-ups that have become significant players.

“We will soon be opening a new distribution centre in Kendal. My advice to other businesses is if you need space, think ahead.”

Cllr Jonathan Brook, portfolio holder for strategic growth, said: “There is a real buzz about business in South Lakeland at the moment. We’ve got the complete range from multi nationals to small and medium sized businesses.

“Our planners are talking to businesses about specific sites that are available for development. The sites present tremendous opportunities for businesses.

“We’re working with schools, colleges and universities to help bridge the skills gap.

“Our Economic Development team can offer practical help – we want businesses to get the message that South Lakeland is open for business.”

SLDC leader Peter Thornton added: “It’s fantastic to see so many people with big ambitions.

“The forum has been tremendous. It’s the first of many similar SLDC events aimed at attracting businesses to invest in the area.

“I feel we have done the right thing in allocating land for housing and employment.”

Head of operations at Cumbria Tourism, Richard Greenwood, said: “From a tourism industry perspective, 2013 was much better than 2012. There is a feeling of optimism but we need investment to create more jobs. We need to do even more on the marketing side to let people know what is available.”

The forum also hosted the premiere of the new Invest in South Lakeland video, a short film featuring a variety of successful companies in the Lake District.