Stansted: Chamber of Commerce is helping local firms make connections at airport

Julie Budden, chair of the Stansted Airport Chamber of Commerce, right, with Andrew Harrison, Stanst

Julie Budden, chair of the Stansted Airport Chamber of Commerce, right, with Andrew Harrison, Stansted Airport's managing director, and Anita Garrard, manager of the Stansted Employment and Skills Academy. - Credit: Archant

Stansted Chamber of Commerce is working hard to connect local businesses with the regional airport. Sheline Clarke spoke to founder and chair Julie Budden about making the most of such an economically-significant neighbour.

Julie Budden says Stansted Airport is in her blood. She has lived in its shadow most of her life, with her parents having moved to be near the airport and found careers in the industry, her mum as a stewardess and her father on the ground as an engineer.

So it was almost inevitable that Julie would find herself involved in Stansted in one way or another.

Twelve years ago she launched an online business directory for companies associated with the airport to advertise their organisations.

As an additional benefit to supporters she started to arrange networking events and soon found that the sociable side was taking over and people were much more interested in meeting other people in associated businesses.

So she launched Stansted Airport Business Group and arranged networking events that soon grew in popularity.

“I have lived here all my life, we are neighbours with the airport and I believe there are opportunities to be had – why not let the airport pays the bills?

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“Once we got up and running we found BAA (the airport’s previous owner) was very supportive and once we had the airport owners on board it gave us more clout and encouraged a lot of local businesses to get involved. Now MAG (which took ownership of Stansted Airport earlier this year) has taken over, they too are keen to engage with us and I think the relationship will get stronger.”

The decision to change the name to Stansted Chamber of Commerce came when Julie became aware that Essex Chamber was looking to open a branch in the region and with her contacts and already flourishing networking group it made sense to affiliate. The relationship also offered her members the further benefits of being chamber members.

Julie’s core objectives for her group, however, remain the same. To encourage local and regional businesses to work for the airport, get involved in the supply chain and reap the benefits of having such a significant business on their doorstep. Half of the battle, of course, is encouraging the airport operator, airlines and other businesses based on site to look locally for their suppliers and workforce.

Today, it is estimated that there are more than 10,000 employees and 190 firms on site contributing a massive £750m to the economy every year. Stansted is the established world leader at servicing the low cost airline sector and has a route network stretching to around 150 destinations and more direct scheduled European flights than any other UK airport.

Its focus now is to broaden the route network, invest in new terminal facilities and offer travellers a richer choice of carriers and destinations, including long haul.

“The airport doesn’t need me,” said Julie, who also runs her own company JAB Business Services Ltd, “but I am trying to help. It’s about creating a stepping stone between the community and the airport, that’s what we are trying to do.

“The airport needs staff and sub-contractors and by using local companies they are supporting the local community in which they operate and sharing the benefits.”

An important date in the airport’s calendar is Meet the Buyers an event, held last month, which aims to offer a platform for local companies to pitch their product or services directly to the airport operators and other businesses based on or close to the airport.

While Julie was not one of the organisers, she backed it and encouraged all of her members to get involved.

“Meet the Buyers happened with BAA and continues with MAG, which is excellent,” said Julie.

“This year MAG explained to businesses that when they pitch they may not go in at the top tier and be awarded a major contract, but that they need to find an entry level at a lower tier. The top tier will inevitable go to a larger company who often look for sub-contractors and that is where the opportunities lie for small businesses, and I don’t think that has been explained very well in the past.

“At the end of the day, we can only do the introductions and they have to do the rest. Becoming a supplier can be hard work and you do have to jump through hoops but it is not impossible and the rewards are worth the effort.”

To compliment events like Meet the Buyer, Stansted Chamber of Commerce also holds seminars to try and coach local businesses on how to become part of the supply chain.

Julie is also looking to stage an exhibition next year to showcase not just the airport but everything East Anglia has to offer visitors flying in.

Other events throughout the year include monthly networking with speakers including representatives of airlines, the airport, MPs and representatives of organisations such as the Haven Gateway Partnership. Events are well attended attracting members and often non members from the surrounding areas all keen to connect with Stansted.

And while Julie understands that interesting speakers attract a bigger audience, she firmly believes it is the other people you meet while networking which could open doors.

With improvements to the terminal building underway, and with MAG keen to attract new carriers and to serve new destinations, Julie firmly believes that her chamber will grow with the airport.

“I think the airport will continue to grow. I was all in favour of a second runway and worked hard to get local businesses on side. My support put me into conflict with some of my neighbours, but I believe expansion and growth is good for all of us, whether in terms of the local economy or jobs for local people.”