By Steve Howell in San Francisco
The mood was relaxed and upbeat yesterday as Carwyn Jones met the companies that had accompanied him on Wales’s trade mission to the San Francisco Bay Area.
On the final day of a hectic visit, the First Minister for Wales wanted feedback from the 18 businesses that had taken part – and had every reason to be pleased with what he heard.
A week that started with the announcement of a 100-job deal for Llangennech-based Hydro Industries ended with everyone in the group saying the visit had surpassed expectations in terms of opportunities and leads generated.
“It’s vital that Wales is as visible as possible on the world stage,” he said afterwards. “The Bay Area is one of the most dynamic centres globally for technology and life sciences, and the fact so many companies have come on this trade mission shows how important this market is.
“But this is just a start. We need to keep the momentum going with more regular trade missions and by opening an office here and working with UK Trade & Industry to identify how to develop the market and future opportunities.”
The Bay Area, which incorporates Silicon Valley, is home to countless household names in high-tech such as Google, Facebook and Apple.
It has more venture capital activity – both by value and number of deals – than any other business region in the world.
And it has 31 universities and colleges – including Stanford and UC Berkeley – producing more PhD scientists and engineers than any other metropolitan area in the US.
This academic excellence is seen as one of the key factors in the area’s reputation for innovation, and the First Minister believes Wales could do more to harness its academic strengths.
“There’s no reason why we can’t replicate what we see here,” he said. “There was a time when Welsh universities weren’t very good at working with industry, but those days are long gone.
“We have a number of excellent universities and, to their credit, they are working much more closely with industry than they were. We’re seeing businesses set up as spin-offs from universities, which is important.”
Asked what he thought Welsh businesses could learn from the Bay Area, he highlighted the attitude to failure.
“We need an entrepreneurial culture that’s less hidebound by fear of failure,” he said. “The reason the Bay Area is so innovative is because those who are successful have often failed in several ventures in the past.
“I think, at home, people would either get dispirited by that or would feel business failure is somehow a reflection on them. But the reality is people learn from failure, which eventually leads to success. Fear of failure is paralysing and stifles innovation.”
During the week, the First Minister had talks with the Mayor of San Francisco, Edwin Lee, and economic development officials of the Governor of California, in which investment into Wales was one of the topics.
“The questions people ask about Wales are around costs, availability of the right people, access to the European market and support from Government. We’re able to offer all those things, and this visit has thrown up international leads we’re now going to pursue.
“We aren’t going to bring jobs to Wales if we sit back and do nothing. We need to be out there promoting Wales, and that’s what this Government will do.”