A Stoke-on-Trent signage company is conquering new markets and creating jobs following a £50,000 cash injection from Michelin Development.

Dresden-based A2B Signs and Graphics is investing in state-of-the-art technology to reach new customers in the UK and overseas.

The money, which has been match funded by a grant from Stoke-on-Trent City Council, has enabled A2B Signs and Graphics to make a £150,000 investment in a finishing table. This allows the company to produce larger-format printed materials on almost any substrate. As a result, over the next three years, the business is forecasting turnover to reach more than £1.2 million and staff numbers to almost double from 13 people to 25.

Specialising in bespoke signage, vehicle and fleet livery, wide format print, exhibition displays and labels, A2B Signs and Graphics was set up by James Machin after he left Staffordshire University in 2007, where he studied business. He started the firm from his home, working around hotel shifts to get the company off the ground. It has continued to grow and James applied to Michelin Development to support his ambitious plans, after largely self-financing expansion over the years.

Michelin Development offers subsidised, unsecured loans of up to £50,000 for projects with the potential to create high-quality, sustainable jobs. Applicants must employ fewer than 250 people and be involved in manufacturing, engineering or business to business services.

Mr Machin said: “The new machine is transforming our business and enabling us to do much more for our clients. We are now working across the length and breadth of the UK and Northern Ireland and we’ve also won work in the Middle East. The support we have had from Michelin Development has helped make this all possible. It’s a great service and we would highly recommend it to businesses looking to grow.”

Mike Cole, head of Michelin Development, is keen to hear from other North Staffordshire businesses targeting growth.

Mr Cole said: “James is a true entrepreneur and he is now in a position to really power forward. This particular loan has been even more satisfying because we collaborated with Stoke-on-Trent City Council, who sit on our Michelin Development steering committee, and match funded their grant offer. They match funded through the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Grants for Growth programme, which is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund. The early release of the Michelin funds meant we were able to help cover the gap in the cashflow between James purchasing the machine and receiving the grant.

“A2B Signs and Graphics is a great example of a business looking to expand, create jobs and support the local economy as a whole. Our message to other small businesses on the same footing is that we are here to help. We have the funds in place, but we need to receive applications to deliver this support and investment in our community. The companies we can help know their markets and figures – they just need a little extra support to move along on their growth journey. That is where we can step in.”

To find out more visit www.michelindevelopment.co.uk or call +44 (0)1538 308685.

We’re joining forces with music charity Make Some Noise to launch the Business Community Choir – a chance for the local business community to come together to try something new in 2020.

The choir is perfect for those looking for a New Year’s resolution that will boost wellbeing and let you meet new people. Facilitated by Make Some Noise, members will be supported by their trained specialists, given encouragement and guidance if needed.

It’s a chance to get together and sing popular and contemporary music in a relaxed and welcoming environment, with the potential to perform at business events in the future.

The first session will take place, subject to numbers, on Wednesday 22nd January at Commerce House, Festival Park, with registration and networking 5pm-5.30pm and then the choir running 5.30pm-7pm. The choir will then meet every fortnight, subject to interest.

Singing with others is great for our mental health and fun too, so why not give it a go?

To register your interest or for more information, please contact Sarah Colclough: sarah.colclough@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

Raising money for our 26 charities is an important part of our work at Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce. We were thrilled to celebrate this week with representatives from the Chamber charities over a festive glass of fizz and a mince pie. Chief Executive Sara Williams presented cheques to the charities from the total we’ve raised so far to support the life changing work of these great causes we have in Staffordshire.

Our Christmas raffle is currently raising more funds for these charities, with prizes ranging from a festive boozy tipple to a bright pink wheelbarrow. Tickets are available for £5 from the Chamber office until 19th December.

Business Showcase Open Days

Businesses tell us that they are struggling to attract and retain homegrown talent, and that school and college leavers aren’t aware of the job prospects in local firms across Staffordshire. That’s why we’re excited to be part of the British Chambers of Commerce new national initiative, Business Showcase Open Days.

Running in February 2020 these Showcase Open Days will see businesses across the country open their doors, providing a chance for local schools, colleges and universities to see first-hand the range of different career paths on offer in local businesses.

As a business you could provide, for example, a tour of your shop floor, warehouse or factory or give a presentation on site about how your business works. Maybe you could run a Meet our Staff event in your office to show young people the range of career opportunities on offer.

The hope is that it will inspire the next generation of Staffordshire’s workforce to understand the range of sectors and industries in the region and for businesses to attract and identify talent.

The Showcase Open Days will also allow businesses and schools to develop connections to help to bridge the gap between business and education.

Participation by businesses is entirely flexible – you can choose what days/times you can open your doors, what type of education provider you would like to support and how many students you could comfortably accommodate. Staffordshire Chambers will then promote your opportunities to schools across the county and will support in matching up schools and businesses based on the requirements of both.

If you would like to get involved in this national initiative, please complete the following form and return to Tom Nadin: Business Showcase Open Days Form

This information will be compiled for all businesses and a booking form will be sent to schools. Schools will then be able to choose on a first come, first serve basis which Business Showcase Open Day they would like to attend. We will then provide your details to the school for them to make contact and organise the visit.

For more information please contact tom.nadin@staffordshirechambers.co.uk

Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce has commissioned a new ‘Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Skills Hub’ to help support SME businesses in Staffordshire with the cost of bespoke training.

The fund is available to businesses from any sector, who can receive up to 48 percent of the cost of a training course up to the value of £5000.

To access the fund businesses will need to complete a needs analysis form with a member of the Skills Hub team.

Businesses can apply for funding for any bespoke course that is not currently funded elsewhere. Training such as CRM courses, accountancy courses, specialised engineering courses and training on specific business machinery are all included.

The Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Skills Hub was devised by Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce who won ESF funding to help bridge the skills shortage in the area.

Suzanne Quinn, Project Manager of Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Skills Hub, said: “Any business who uses equipment or employs one or more staff member should contact the Skills Hub to see how we can support them. During our needs analysis we can identify how a business can be improved through specialised training and then we’ll help to find and fund that course.”

Sara Williams, CEO of Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce said: “This is a great initiative open to all businesses in Staffordshire and we urge any business to get in touch to utilise this great opportunity”.

For more information businesses should call the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Skills Hub on 0300 600 1066

When Selina Rudzik needed “an extra pair of eyes and ears” to help her recruitment company reach its full potential, she knew who to turn to.

As a mentor herself, Selina already knew the many advantages of joining the Let’s Do Mentoring programme at the Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce, but as she states, “Sometimes you reach a stage where you need a clearer focus, to see the woods from the trees. It’s admitting to yourself that this is the case and taking appropriate action. In this instance, the answer really was right in front of me.”

Selina has over a decade of management experience in the recruitment sector, and is the founder and owner of Recruitment Robin Ltd, a fixed fee recruitment and resourcing business supplying permanent and contract staff solutions to businesses in Staffordshire and beyond.

Selina’s extra eyes and ears came in the shape of mentor Sean Farrell, a successful business coach who boasts an impressive track record of helping companies throughout Staffordshire.

“When I first started on the mentoring road, I was looking for support with regards to having a clearer focus, but with particular help on sales and marketing,” she explains. “But after meeting Sean it became apparent that the focus would be very different. Basically, Sean gave me clarity. Clarity in how I thought about myself and my business. He helped me to virtually strip away everything that I shouldn’t be focussing on and helped to remind me that I’m really good at what I do, but also to cut out what I don’t need to be doing.”

Click on the following link to read the full case study of how Let’s Do Mentoring supported Selina: Recruitment Robin Case Study

Welcome to our new presidents

We are delighted to welcome our three new presidents! Each of them will be under 40 years of age when they take up office, a first in the Chambers’ history.

New Staffordshire Chambers president, Matt Hubbard, is well known to many, having joined the Chamber in 2004 as a recent graduate of Staffordshire University with a BA in Film Production. Matt and a group of fellow graduates set up film production company, Reels in Motion, and as the company grew, so did Matt’s confidence. He became chair of Future Finest in 2011 and deputy president of the Chamber in 2017.

By coincidence, the new presidents of Stafford and Staffordshire Moorlands Chambers are both architects. Carl Croft is returning for his second stint as president, whilst the youngest president of the trio, Natalie Hewitt, is relatively new to the Chamber, having only joined in 2016.

We asked each of the new presidents what their aims are in post:

Matt Hubbard, Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce: “To continue the excellent work done to date in repositioning the Chamber and its value to members. To improve engagement so that members get real value. To ensure that the Chamber is the go-to business support body in what is a very challenging period.”

Natalie Hewitt, Staffordshire Moorlands: “To give smaller SME companies in the Moorlands a bigger voice. To make sure our support reaches all parts of the district including Uttoxeter which comes under our wing and to build the great work of my predecessor Suzanne Davy who has worked tirelessly to increase membership and engagement.”

Carl Croft, Stafford: “I would like to carry on the great work of my predecessor, Phil Osman, to see the Chambers’ grow and for the Staffordshire economy to be in the best possible shape. Specifically, Stafford Chamber will be representing the members on issues such as HS2 – to get the very best rail service and economic benefits, new and forthcoming developments including digital and other infrastructure as well as promotion of the future of our town centres.”

We hope you join us in welcoming Matt, Natalie and Carl and wishing them every success in post.


Michelin Development are proud to have been instrumental in supporting a number of North Staffordshire businesses to invest and expand their operations.

Thanks to funding received, JPR Solutions (UK) Limited were able to not only benefit from ongoing business support, but have also been able to invest in infrastructure and to take on a significant number of additional staff which is a fantastic achievement for the team as they continue to grow within their chosen business sector.

Another success story is Patera Engineering who have been able to expand their business after receiving assistance from the fund. The business has benefited from two loans which has helped the team to move into larger premises, invest in high technology equipment and develop advanced Building Information Modelling (BIM). The team have also been able to make the leap into top specification projects both nationally and internationally.

Bartec Engineering Services who specialise in mechanical and electrical installation have used their loan to move into new premises. This has given the business the resource to secure larger and more prestigious contracts. The team are pleased to have been able to win impressive new sub-contractor projects that have included water recovery and treatment projects for Heathrow Airport Ltd, Thames Water, Southern Water and Severn Trent Water which helps to secure the future of the business.

Staffordshire Moorlands based Moorland Contract Cleaning have been able to move into new markets following a £50,000 cash injection from the fund. This significant sum will be used to launch a new division, providing janitorial supplies that feature greener formulations and sustainable packaging. Over the next three years, the business is forecasting turnover to double and more than 10 full time positions to be created as a result of the expansion.

Mike Cole from Michelin Development commented, “2019 has been another challenging year for businesses across the country but it is important for SMEs in North Staffordshire to know that Michelin Development continues to be there to support their growth and we look forward to hearing from more companies in 2020 both new and old with exciting plans to grow and create jobs.”

If you are inspired by these success stories and interested in finding out more about how a loan from Michelin Development could help your business to grow, visit https://michelindevelopment.co.uk/#who-can-apply

The percentage of UK firms facing recruitment difficulties has returned to previous highs, while one in four businesses expect to increase headcount according to the UK’s largest survey of employers.

Over half (54%) of British businesses recruited in the last three months, with nearly three quarters reporting recruitment difficulties, as skills shortages persist. One in four (27%) British businesses plan to increase their headcount in the next quarter (Q4 2019), with two thirds believing their workforce will remain constant.

The latest Quarterly Recruitment Outlook from the British Chambers of Commerce, in partnership with Totaljobs, reveals that almost three-quarters (73 per cent) of businesses who attempted to recruit faced recruitment difficulties in Q3 2019, compared with 64 per cent in Q2.

Skills shortages were predominantly felt across skilled manual roles and professional roles, with 80 per cent of construction firms and 71 per cent of transport and distribution businesses facing difficulties recruiting the right staff. In the run up to Christmas, 70,000 transport and distribution roles were advertised on Totaljobs in Q3, receiving an average of 23 applications per vacancy.

Despite concerns over Brexit deadlock, labour market performance and expectations are holding up fairly well.  Only 11 per cent of businesses have decreased their workforce in Q3, with one in four businesses increasing their total headcount. Headcount remained consistent at 62 per cent of responding businesses.

Looking forward, one in four businesses plan to increase their headcount in Q4 2019, and two in three expect to keep their workforce consistent. Just 8 per cent of UK firms expect to decrease their headcount in Q4 2019. Supporting signs of a buoyant recruitment market, over 740,000 job vacancies advertised on Totaljobs in Q3 2019, with over 13 million applications made on the platform.

Although over half (54 per cent) of UK businesses tried to recruit in Q3 2019, just one in four (28%) micro- businesses attempted to recruit. In contrast, 75% of small and mid-sized businesses (250+ employees) and 90% of large businesses (250+ employees) recruited in the same period.

BCC Director General Adam Marshall said:

“Jobseekers will welcome the fact that many businesses are continuing to hire staff, but policymakers should be alarmed that skills shortages continue to bedevil firms – particularly in the skilled roles that will be needed to drive healthy manufacturing and export performance following Brexit.

“The next government must swiftly translate election promises into action and deliver more generous investment in high-quality technical and vocational education at all levels, alongside a flexible, fast and affordable immigration system that provides access to a broad range of skills. It must radically reduce upfront business costs so firms have the confidence and cashflow to back this up with on-the-job training and apprenticeships.”

Patrick Wehrmann, CEO of Totaljobs said:

“The labour market remains one of the strongest pillars of the UK economy, and in the previous quarter, there were almost 750,000 vacancies advertised on Totaljobs, driving over 13 million applications from the UK workforce.

“Despite economic uncertainty, our latest research indicates that the labour market is buoyant, and with over a quarter of businesses looking to expand their workforce with an increased headcount in Q4, this looks set to continue.

“However, it’s notable that skills shortages continue to affect businesses UK-wide, and as such, regardless of wider economic concerns, employers should be mindful that they are doing what’s necessary to attract and retain the best talent on offer.

“Totaljobs research shows that workers are particularly driven by professional development and training, clear progression paths, and a healthy work-life balance. It’s vital that employers put these things front of mind and continue to drive investment in their people in order to keep staff engaged, and drive business output during a dip in the economy.”



Surveying for our latest Quarterly Economic Survey is now open. We would love to hear from firms of all shapes and sizes – whether starts ups, sole traders, SMEs, medium sized or large corporations – to help create an accurate picture of the business landscape across Staffordshire.

The QES survey results will allow us to find out more about your business and some of the issues you’re having. It’s so important that we understand your challenges in order to raise these issues in national and regional government. Your responses will remain completely anonymous.

Whether you’re a seasoned director or new to your company, please spare just a few minutes to fill in the survey. Thank you for taking part!

Complete the survey here.