CONGRATULATIONS to our Top 200 businesses. As the drivers of growth in a regional economy now facing significant threat from public sector cuts, they bear the responsibility of creating jobs and growth to ensure the North East bounces back from last year's recession.
In many areas clearly – including low carbon vehicles and offshore wind – the North East is well placed to attract new investment and to support indigenous businesses to produce new products for new markets. This year’s announcements from Nissan on Leaf production and the start of building the battery plant mark an exciting future for our highly competitive and productive automotive sector.
The clearing of the shipyards at Shepherd Offshore and the imminent opening of the Clipper turbine manufacturing facility represent the beginning of a new era for the banks of the Tyne, utilising our heritage for the benefit of the future.
The announcement that the New and Renewable Energy Centre (Narec) at Blyth has been recognised as a national centre for excellence further reinforces the growing recognition of the offshore wind activity in the region.
To date, regional businesses have attracted over £150m of orders in offshore wind-related activity with significant further growth expected while on Teesside the opening of Ensus, the UK’s largest bio- refinery, is hopefully one of many exciting new energy solutions which this region can provide.
However, we must not assume that these investments in our region were the result of serendipity. These investments and the transitioning of our economy are the result of a long-term strategic approach to developing the conditions for success for these new industries.
The Narec facility was developed by One North East in 2002 as part of a science-based economic acceleration programme called the Strategies for Success. The Nissan announcements are based on the long-term partnership developed between the region and Nissan Japan.
These are underpinned by the expertise of the management and workforce of Nissan Sunderland who secured the new future for the plant through sheer hard work and determination over years, demonstrating that the North East could operate the most productive car plant in Europe despite not being in the lowest cost economy.
Critically, however, to secure the battery plant and Leaf production the region had to commit to infrastructure development, and One North East worked tirelessly to show how it could support Nissan’s electric vision.
As we come out of recession, there are real reasons for the North East to be optimistic about the future. These new industries, while in their infancy, have great potential. However, I must also raise a note of caution – without the strategic economic development work of One North East, the region would not have succeeded in attracting these investments.
If the North East is to grow its contribution to UK plc and reduce its dependency on public sector spend, it is critical that we have an economic development strategy which can kick-start new industries.
Investments such as the Narec turbine testing facility are an example of shared assets which no one business could or would have built, but creates a magnet for further investment.
The business community, including the CBI, are working with the 12 local authorities to develop proposals to secure economic development that is at the heart of the North East, and to ensure that the growth and diversification of our economy continues.
:: Sarah Green is North East director of the Confederation of British Industry