Economy & Industry

As a major seaport, Bristol has a long history of trading commodities. Originally this included wool cloth exports, with imports of fish, wine, grain and dairy produce, and later tobacco, tropical fruits and plantation goods. Major imports now are motor vehicles (of which Bristol is the largest importer to the UK), grain, timber, fresh produce and petroleum products.

During the 19th and 20th centuries the Port of Bristol was gradually relocated to the mouth of the River Avon to accommodate the increasing size and volume of shipping. Since the new port was leased in 1991, £330 million has been invested and the annual tonnage throughput has increased from four million to 12 million tonnes. The tobacco trade and cigarette manufacturing have now ceased, but imports of wines and spirits by Harveys and Averys continue.

As well as Bristol's nautical connections, the city's economy is reliant on the aerospace industry, defence, the media, tourism, IT and financial service sectors.

A major segment of the local economy is the aerospace industry, whose main companies are BAE Systems, Airbus and Rolls-Royce, all based at Filton. Aerospace engineering is also a prominent research area at the nearby University of the West of England. Another important aviation company in the city is hot air balloon manufacturer Cameron Balloons.

Defence Equipment & Support (formerly the Defence Procurement Agency) has resided in purpose-built headquarters at Abbey Wood, Filton since 1995. This site employs 7,000 to 8,000 staff and is responsible for procuring and supporting much of the MoD's defence equipment.

Bristol receives nine million visitors each year, and is the UK's seventh most popular destination for foreign tourists.

The financial services sector employs 59,000 in the city, and the high-tech sector's 50 micro-electronics and silicon design companies employ around 5,000. The latter includes the Hewlett-Packard national research laboratories, which opened in 1983.

A new £500 million shopping centre called Cabot Circus opened in 2008 amidst claims from developers and politicians that Bristol would become one of England's top ten retail destinations. In 2009 Bristol was selected as one of the world's top ten cities by international travel publishers Dorling Kindersley in their Eyewitness series of guides for young adults.

In 2004 Bristol's GDP was £9.439 billion and the GDP per head was £23,962, making the city more affluent than the UK as a whole, at 40% above the national average. This makes it the sixth highest GDP per capita of any city in the UK, behind London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast and Nottingham. In March 2007, Bristol's unemployment rate was 4.8%, compared with 4.0% for the South West and 5.5% for England.