Lying at the heart of Britain, the Midlands cover a huge geographical area, with a population of more than nine million people.
The area is traditionally split into east and west regions, with distinct economic, social and cultural differences. The East Midlands, which is more sparsely populated than its western neighbour, comprises the counties of Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and Rutland.
The region has a strong industrial tradition but is also dominated by rural communities, with 40 per cent of the population living in towns of less than 10,000 people.
Manufacturing, service sector and industrial employers are the backbone of the economy, although consistent growth is undermined by low levels of GDP per head. In fact, the area is ranked just 37th among the 77 EU regions.
The East Midlands Development Agency points to a poor economic structure and marked variations in performance across the regions as the key challenges to future prosperity.
The latest Labour Force Survey figures show employment in the region has grown slightly, although there are no significant differences from the same time last year.
In the last 12 months, the employment level has risen by 15,000 to 2.05 million (76 per cent), while the level of unemployment has dropped by 0.8 per cent to 3.8 per cent during the same period.
Figures from the Manpower Economic Outlook Survey show employers are also growing in confidence, with an overall hiring index of 15 points compared to the national average of 14.
The West Midlands comprises Birmingham, Coventry, Warwickshire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, the Black Country and Worcestershire.
There are more than 188,000 businesses in the region, covering a wide range of sectors. Major employers include Fujitsu, Cadbury, IBM, Danone, PepsiCo and Wedgwood. Car manufacturing is recognised as one of the more traditional industries in the region, although the IT sector is today's major growth area, expanding by 20 per cent year-on-year.
There are major variations in prosperity and growth across the region, which the HSBC regional report cites as an area of concern. Birmingham tends to lead the way for the rest of the region and is becoming renowned for its financial and business services sector.
The workforce is currently 2.46 million strong (74 per cent), while unemployment stands at 5.4 per cent.
John Dyson, branch manager at the Birmingh