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Discovery Park, Kent three years on

Image for Discovery Park, Kent three years on

Discovery Park was created on 31 July 2012 when Pfizer sold its 220 acre R&D site to Discovery Park Ltd (“DPL”), a consortium between Palmer Capital, Trevor Cartner and Chris Musgrave. Pfizer retained about 10 percent of its floor area on a leasehold basis.

The challenge

DPL faced a challenging task of attracting new occupiers to a location which was previously well-outside any recognised life sciences activity, apart from the very secretive work undertaken by Pfizer staff. The whole complex felt like the Pfizer ‘institution’ that indeed it had been for nearly 60 years. Non-Pfizer staff needed to get through several layers of security and bring photo ID.

The result

Three years on and the site has been transformed into a vibrant business environment where open innovation is practised as well as preached. Some 125 companies have been attracted, ranging from local start-ups to major overseas inward investors. Companies with the whole of Europe to choose from have located here.

Why did they come?

There is no single factor; it is usually a combination of reasons. Competitive rents and EZ fiscal incentives have helped. The warm welcome from academia and public sector bodies. The availability of skilled labour. The one hour 15 minute rail journey to London. But most companies state that the main attraction was the buzz, the feeling that companies were working together, that if they located at Discovery Park they would achieve more progress more quickly than by being anywhere else.

How did we do it?

The traditional agency community either could not see the wider benefits of a company moving to Discovery Park, or suggested the same old traditional ways of marketing property, so we needed to adopt a different way of working.

This involved a systematic approach based on detailed research and the development of an offer that was highly personalised to each target business. It was highly intensive and comprised a range of targeted, complementary activities delivered by a passionate and dedicated team. Activity included:

pfizersiteA dedicated team – we appointed a dedicated executive to work with the Park’s management team exclusively on attracting occupiers and building a community of businesses at the Park.

Supply chain mining – research identified companies in the supply chain for relevant target sectors (in this case pharmaceuticals and life sciences). As new companies moved to the site, the team worked with them to target their supply chains (it is often beneficial to businesses to have their suppliers nearby) and singled out companies who might find mutual benefit from co-location with their customers.

Personalised approaches – having researched an organisation and identified the relevant decision makers, we pursued a highly personalised approach strategy. By understanding what their requirements were, we were able to approach them directly – by phone, letter, email or at an event – and discuss these requirements and how Discovery Park could meet them.

By using our market intelligence and input from customers and others in their supply chains, we were able to shape our ‘pitch’ to them in a way that individually met what we knew they needed.

Meeting up / helping out – for many businesses, property is not an area they need to know much about and so levels of expertise within the organisation can be quite low. Support from the property community can also be fairly formulaic, so we decided we would go further and help prospective occupiers navigate the minefield that is relocation. This often meant introducing companies to others that had already relocated and/or to advisers who could provide answers to their concerns such as local authority economic development officers or recruitment specialists. All the time talking through the opportunity with genuine enthusiasm.

Even those organisations with a property function or a senior management team member assigned with the task of finding premises valued this personal approach. One major international business looking for a UK base chose Discovery Park because our senior management team made the effort to meet with them, show them round the site and the wider area personally and discuss their property and non-property requirements. Other locations had simply sent a map and a junior surveyor to ‘show them round’.


The right approach medium – different approaches worked for different people, so for some we could arrange to meet following an introductory call, others required an email or a more formal letter. Personal follow ups were a must and our executives made sure that they knew enough about the prospect and its operational requirements – specification, car parking, tenure, layout, etc – to have a detailed and meaningful conversation about the Discovery Park offer.

Supporting our partners – our team works very closely with the teams at Dover District Council, the LEP, Locate in Kent and business networks such as the Chamber of Commerce. We made sure that if they received an enquiry, they not only knew all about Discovery Park and its offer but knew that they could come to us with an enquiry and get a rapid, personalised response for any prospect. A representative from Locate in Kent now has an office within the Park and works with us on both the attraction and retention of tenants. The District Council also has free use of office space. We also work with UKTI and the Office for Life Sciences so that they are aware of our unique offer and a fully equipped to brief prospects on its merits.

Working the networks – the life science pharmaceutical and other advanced manufacturing organisations we are targeting all had networks of their own. We identified them and got involved with them, joining where possible, attending events, contributing to activities and generally making Discovery Park synonymous with these sectors of activity.

Creating a vibrant, supportive mix – although our primary focus was to attract life science businesses, we recognised that a thriving business community needs support services. As a result we have successfully targeted professional firms such as lawyers and accountants, recruitment businesses and communications firms, all of which specialise in life science work to locate at Discovery Park.

Community – modern occupiers a community not just an office. We have created a vibrant community at Discovery Park (see section 9) which allows occupiers to collaborate and work together but also to network and meet less formally through a range of events and activities. We also encourage employees to get involved in out-of-work and community activities all designed to add to their sense of wellbeing.

The approach at Discovery Park may not be conventional but we have proved that it works.

Dover District experienced the highest number of inward investment projects of all Kent’s local authorities during 2014/15 thanks to Discovery Park. Previously it languished towards the bottom of the table. It also boasts the best performing Enterprise Zone anywhere in England and Wales.

From a start point of five businesses on site, Discovery Park now has 125 tenants (including Pfizer) and around 2,400 employees. Some 30 of these businesses have grown from small start-up businesses.