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It`s just a jump to the left

The more I see of the Welsh IT industry, the more it feels like I`ve stepped through a time warp, and into a parallel dimension.
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The more I see of the Welsh IT industry, the more it feels like I`ve stepped through a time warp, and into a parallel dimension. Waves of d'ej`a vu wash over me almost as regularly as they break on the shoreline of Swansea Bay, and I have to remind myself that I don`t know the outcome of this particular story, regardless of how familiar it seems.

And it really does seem familiar; in terms of the economy and but for a few minor differences, I could very well be in the South Africa of five years past. What we have here is a country on the rebound, following a dismal period during which it haemorrhaged lifeblood through what had been its richest industrial sectors in years gone by.

The decline of the coal and metal sectors in the 1980s, combined with a decline in some older manufacturing sectors, meant Wales was left with severe structural problems which reflected in both economy and society. Wales began the decade as one of the most needy areas of the UK economy, scoring poorly on a wide range of indicators of economic well-being.

In terms of the economy and but for a few minor differences, I could very well be in the South Africa of five years past.

Basheera Khan, editor, ITWales.com

Since then, there has been a degree of economic transformation based around new physical infrastructure development and the attraction of inward investment. Wales now has ties with a set of US, European and Japanese multinationals, many of which are allied to the electronics, automotive and chemicals industries. The services sector has also come to dominate the local economy more - as can be seen in its success in attracting business and financial services companies in call centre investments.

So far, so South African, neh?

That hasn`t changed the disparities that exist within its borders. Certain regions within Wales are considered impoverished according to EU measures, and those which now receive EU Objective 1 funding are comparable with the poorest regions of the European Union.

Millions of pounds are being spent on providing business support services for start-ups and SMEs operative in that sector, and on the provision of IT training for pretty much anyone who wants it. The audit trail is mind-boggling, and every project that makes use of European Structural Funds is regularly reviewed to ensure it is doing what it said it would to contribute to Welsh socio-economic development.

All this investment in infrastructure and skills, while serving the purpose of attracting foreign investors, also seeks to prepare the Welsh in general for standing on their own feet and experiencing personal success while contributing to the country`s GDP.

Especially where IT is concerned, the effort going into support for Welsh initiatives, including such newly launched projects as providing bilingual options for software and Welsh interest Web sites, is comparable to the BEE initiatives which have gained growing momentum in SA.

Certainly, Wales and SA have taken comparable paths in achieving a plateau of development, but that is where the similarities end. Where either country goes to from here depends largely on the success of public/private partnerships that seem to be the way forward for any farseeing government.

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