TOGETHER we can bring Southampton businesses back to prosperity.

That was the message at the fourth annual South Coast Business Works, where some of the south’s biggest firms gathered to network. Hundreds of people packed the Southampton Novotel at the Daily Echo event, designed to promote cooperation and collaboration between local companies.

Successful professionals gave presentations throughout the day highlighting the potential that exists in the city.

Keynote speaker Penny Power, founder of Ecademy, the UK’s first business social network, said: “Here in Southampton I see a group of people who are intelligent, strong, well-meaning, loving and trustworthy who can solve the local issues, and I’m wondering why this is not happening.

“As citizens of Southamp-ton you have got to start caring for the local economy because it’s the only way it’s going to grow.”

Simon Rhodes, managing partner of Trethowans Solicitors, principal sponsors of the Works, said: “It reminds me of the Monty Python sketch of the 100-metre dash for people with no sense of direction. There are so many businesses trying to do so many things and if we could all move in the same direction, think what could be achieved.”

Meanwhile several speakers said retaining graduates from the University of Southampton and Southampton Solent University for local businesses and encouraging more youngsters to take apprenticeships at Hampshire colleges was key.

Andy Westwood, of higher education charity GuildHE, said: “The Solent area as a region does have to produce more skilled people but they also need to stay in the area and have the right skills, not just a blanket policy to pump people out of the area.

“It’s about retaining them and using them to build business in the local economy.”

Trevor Thorne, marketing and communications director at Southampton Solent, added: “We try to understand the regional labour market and how we can plug into it. We can show young people a career and provide guidance to get them to wherever they want to be in life.”

The speaker who travelled the furthest was Ed Morrison, economic advisor to Purdue University in Indiana in the USA, who said networking events were essential for starting new ventures and projects through new conversations.

More than 30 businesses of all sizes attended the event, including the Mayflower Theatre, Ageas Bowl and Santander bank.