By Alex Peters •

Textiles to Technology - The Digital Industry in Leeds

Parallax is a digital agency based in Leeds. With our office located in the Old Brewery, just off Call Lane, we love Leeds and enjoy the lifestyle and buzz of the city.

Leeds has become a thriving hotbed for digital agencies over the past fifteen years. The city has now become the largest UK employment base for the digital and creative industries outside London. Today, 35,000 people in Leeds’ digital industry contribute £270 million GVA to the Leeds City Region, with the city’s creative studios servicing some of the biggest brands in the world.

Head to the south east region of the city centre and you’ll enter a hive of creatives and entrepreneurs in a rejuvenated space that has become home to many digital agencies.

Leeds’ history of innovation and entrepreneurship through different sectors has seen the city thrive across different centuries, but the digital collective that spans along the River Aire today in the city centre was once home to a very different industry.

Textiles to Technology

The Industrial Revolution and growth of the factories throughout the 18th century saw the population of Leeds rocket from 17,000 to 53,000 by 1800. Leeds became a centre of industry with thousands of mill workers required to run the busy demand for the textiles trade. As newer technologies became available, the textiles industry began to boom in the North.

But it was not only woollen textiles that were made here; Leeds was also a major centre of the flax industry. Leeds and Bradford become central to Yorkshire’s success as the cities established themselves during this period.

With innovation at the heart of the textiles industry that saw Leeds grow so rapidly, it’s not surprising that the industries who reside in the old mill houses and brewery buildings today hold innovation and new technology at the heart of their organisations’ values.

Along the cobbled streets and open brickwork buildings, Leeds’ digital agencies now reside in the former breweries and dockyard warehouses along both the the River Aire and Leeds – Liverpool Canal; spaces which supported the 18th and 19th century textile and manufacturing industries.

Now that these industries have receded, Leeds is beginning to make a name for itself in the digital world, and with the proposed high speed rail network making connections around the country more efficient, along with direct flights to London connecting the city with the world.

The Digital Scene in Leeds

Eight years ago Leeds City Council recognised the digital and creative industries as having a powerful role within the local economy and also having a significant impact on Leeds’ overall city image. Throughout 2005, the digital industry was distinguished as a key business sector to help regenerate parts of the the city. Since then it has flourished.

Fast forward to 2013 and the Information Economy Strategy, (developed in partnership with the digital industry) highlights the delivery that will generate fresh growth opportunities for some of the UK’s most innovative technology businesses.

The Future

Things are looking promising for the digital sector. The government is very conscious of the growth that the digital world is bringing to the UK economically and in terms of British industry. Cities such as Leeds and Manchester are at the forefront of this wave in digital innovation.

However, it’s not just Leeds that has seen a huge economic influence from the digital industry in recent years. Manchester has seen incredible growth through the regeneration of the Salford Quays and the arrival of Media City. Will Leeds one day match this with a Media City equivalent of its own?

It hasn’t all been rosy though. From a digital marketing perspective at a Leeds agency, the city has had a long and unwanted black hat SEO reputation that has tarnished several agencies. This even led to Moz (one of the world’s leading digital marketing voices) CEO Rand Fishkin referencing ‘black hat Leeds’. However, new and young enterprising digital agencies are creating some outstanding work to remove the unwanted black hat SEO tag.

As technology grows, the digital sector is going from strength to strength, which is encouraging for those working in the sector. As technology advances, users will become more savvy, with higher expectations from the digital technology they use in their daily lives.

This is great news for the digital sector as it will lead to the growth of existing digital agencies, which is in turn great news for Leeds. This is an industry which will see the city’s economy grow and and grow. Long may it continue.