DORSET could be the “California of the UK”, combining its natural environment with an appeal to companies relocating from other parts of Britain and abroad.

That was among the suggestions as businesses across the county began having their say on its economic future.

Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) held three business breakfasts as part of its efforts to shape growth through a local industrial strategy.

Manufacturing, tourism, finance, the creative industries and education were among the sectors represented at the events in Bournemouth, Shaftesbury and Dorchester.

LEP chair Jim Stewart said: “We’re asking businesses and partner organisations to tell us what they think about the challenges and opportunities we face, how best to attract and retain talented people and how to make access to investment easier.

“The more we can identify what is unique to Dorset, the more we can influence the level of government funding that comes our way.

“We could be a ‘California of the UK’, a place with a fantastic natural environment and the power to attract companies to relocate here from the rest of the UK and internationally.”

LEP director Lorna Carver said: “We are in a competitive environment with LEPs around the country bidding for government funding so we need to articulate a distinct vision for Dorset. What do we want to be known for?”

“Our consultation is designed to ensure that the content of the Local Industrial Strategy reflects what businesses across the county want and need,” she added.

The events discussed various challenges for Dorset, including productivity, infrastructure, house price affordability, climate change, talent retention, social mobility and the ageing population, many of which were identified in a recent LEP survey.

Points raised by the audience included the importance of consultation with students and younger people, branding Dorset as ‘well-being’ capital, and the need for more attractive town centres.

LEP board member Ian Girling, chief executive of Dorset Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: “With Dorset’s two new local authorities replacing the nine councils we had before, we have a fantastic opportunity to sharpen the county’s decision making, bid for more funding, and create a more unified message and brand. Businesses need to be at the heart of these discussions.”

More consultations are due ahead of a strategy launch this autumn.