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'Watford's diversity is its strength', says Watford Enterprise Agency chairman Chris Pichon
If you want to get an idea of Watford’s economic health look at its business parks, not its high street or Government stats, according to the outgoing chief of executive of the town’s enterprise agency.
Chris Pichon, who has headed up the Wenta (the Watford Enterprise Agency) for almost two decades, said the newer reg. cars dotted around its industrial and business centres gave a stronger indictor of the town’s improving economic state.
After announcing his retirement this week to become Wenta’s chairman, Mr Pichon, said Watford had fared the recession better than other parts of the country.
He said also said it was the businesses hidden away in office blocks and industrial estates that were powering the town’s recovery.
In an interview with the Watford Observer this week, Mr Pichon said: "You cannot underestimate the impact (of the recession). We are not immune to it. But we are quite good at riding it and coming through it unlike other areas of the country where there is still unemployment.
"You can look at the retail sector and look at the empty units and think ‘is it getting better?’ but if you go down Clarendon Road and look at the offices and how busy it is, or go down to the industrial parks and see how many vacant units there are, not many are empty.
"We (Wenta) have five business centres in Hertfordshire and north west London, that’s around 450 units and we can see how these business are and I can say without question there’s a buoyancy in that market that is encouraging.
"If you look at the quality of cars on the business parks that usually tells you how well they are doing. You see newer cars on the business centres and that’s a good impression.
"Government stats are often out of date the scope for deviation on them is huge, they are no real indication. I think the best indication is to look for yourself. I think there has been an unquestionable improvement in the economy."
Wenta, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this week, was founded in the midst of the recession of the early 1980s by Watford businessmen and local authority to help those made redundant become self employed.
Mr Pichon became involved with Wenta after losing his job as director of HR at the struggling Scammell Trucks in 1983.
The agency helped Mr Pichon start his own powder coating business and he was invited to join the agency in 1995 after being bought out by his business partner.
Mr Pichon said: "I was approached by Ken Hards (the then chief executive) and asked if I would take over. I was only going to do a few years, get a good golf handicap and then start a new business. But I am still with Wenta and now celebrating its 30th birthday.
"It is a fantastic challenge being Wenta chief executive and I have enjoyed every minute.
"The fact you are making a difference to people’s lives, that’s a wonderful feeling to have.
Over the last two decades the agency has expanded its annual turnover from around £300,000 to three million and its operations stretch across Hertfordshire and north London.
Mr Pichon said the internet had made it easier for people to set up their own business but also made the current commercial environment more complex for start-ups.
He added: "It’s a proven fact that business that take advice when they start are around 2 per cent more likely to be successful with bigger profits than those that do it on their own.
"It used to be really just a couple of ex-bank managers giving new businesses advice, now the people who do it are real professions."
Having watched Watford’s commercial evolution over the decades, Mr Pichon’s parting assessment was that its economy was more diverse than in the 1980s when thousands of jobs depended on large employers such as Scammell and Sun Printers.
He said: "What I would say we have is a very, very diverse economy now and it is this diversity that is its strength. Years ago there were two or three industries that provided jobs now we have a multitude of businesses providing jobs.
"By and large I would say that is its strength. There are more opportunities. But what people have to get quickly get used to is the idea that there are no jobs for life."
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