Barnsley is still playing catch up - but the gap is closing.
Sir Steve Houghton refuses to gloss over the borough’s economic woes but can at least point to an improving picture.
Barnsley suffered a “catastrophic” shock following the demise of the mining industry - and it wasn’t prosperous before that.
He said: “We had deprivation during the time of the mining industry and following its collapse we went backwards.
“In business terms these areas were dependent on some very dominant public sector industries. When they left, steel, and particularly coal, left a very big gap. Places like Manchester have not suffered that catastrophic shock.
“It took us until 2010 to get back to the same level of income and we are still playing catch up. We are behind, there is no getting away from it. But it is a lot better than it was, there are a lot more people in work and we do think we can catch a lot of it back.
“There is a lot of low paid work but how do you get better jobs?”
One angle of attack is further devolution to obtain control over training for 16-18-year-olds, to try to close the skills gap.
He added: “At the very least we can spend the money better.”
Barnsley can also boast a cultural sector that punches above its weight.
The Experience Barnsley museum, inside the town’s stunning Portland stone town hall, is well regarded. As is the Cooper Gallery, Elsecar Heritage Centre and Cannon Hall.
Sir Steve added: “They are all doing pretty well.
“We are really pleased with the cultural economy.”
He joked: “They help us get people here and get their money off them.”