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Ringing out the old and welcoming in the new

1st January 2012


Looking back over some of the highs and lows of the year…

There is no doubt that the heavy snow fall in January 2011 resulted in a frosty start for many businesses, and whilst I was delighted we were able to keep the BIC open (thanks to the relentless work of our maintenance team who toiled to keep the roads and site safe) we like many businesses were also hit as individuals and suppliers struggled to cope with the treacherous conditions.

Fortunately February brought with it some much brighter conditions; the North East’s efforts to become Europe’s most advanced electric-vehicle charging network was given a kick start when the Metrocentre unveiled the UK’s first publicly accessible high-speed charger and the Thai firm Sahaviriya Steel Industries (SSI) provided a huge boost for steelmaking in the region by announcing it was taking on the mothballed Corus plant in Redcar in a £291m deal, and a pledge to spend £600m on the site over the next two years.

Good news continued to resonate throughout the region in the spring and summer as HM Revenue & Customs released figures highlighting that the value of goods exported from the region increased for the fourth successive quarter, totalling £3.33bn, the highest ever quarterly figure for the region. Closer to home the BIC’sJupiter Centre was commended at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) awards and we opened our very first test kitchen for Masterchef finalist and new tenant Stacie Stewart.

Business leaders were officially appointed to the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, a body tasked with the revival of the region’s economy. Made up of employers, council leaders and education chiefs, the North East LEP followed the introduction of the Teesside LEP last year. Led by chairman Paul Woolston, senior partner at accountants PwC in Newcastle, other panel members include Fiona Cruickshank of SCM Pharma, Dr Arnab Basu of Kromek, Wessington Cryogenics director Gill Southern and Michael Bellamy, general manager of Cramlington oil and gas pipeline business PII Pipeline Solutions.

Welcome cheers were heard across Wearside when Nissan made the announcement that it would be building the replacement for the Qashqai in the region; thus safeguarding the jobs of 1,500 workers.

PR and social media specialist Jerri Murtagh of Echo 23 was named the Sunderland Echo winner of the ‘If we can you can’ Entrepreneurs’ Forum campaign and Big Ideas Youth Challenge winners ‘The Innovators’demonstrated true business potential and entrepreneurial flair with the Lock Lock; an idea designed to target homeowners who own smart phones and would welcome a device which assists them in locking the doors of their houses.

Youth Challenge winners

Later in the summer speculation over the re-introduction of the North East Enterprise Zones was laid to rest when it was confirmed that the region would receive over £200 million to help develop the area and create new jobs. This controversial decision was welcomed in some parts of the region as despite its chequered past the formative Enterprise Zone gave rise to such developments as Doxford International Business Park, which has of course since provided substantial employment for Wearside and Quorum and Cobalt business parks; which collectively house over 10,000 workers, and are occupied by tenants including Proctor and Gamble, Orange and IBM.

However, some parks created more recently, still under the previous EZ mantle first initiated in 1981 (make no mistake these are long-term projects) have not been so successful. Some of the offices built in East Durham over the past decade occupy less than 50% of their capacity today.

In September just after the Start-Up Britain bus left the region further job losses were announced by Business Link but despite the organisation’s closure in November the North East region enterprise agencies continue to successfully help thousands of people into self employment.

With a reputation for creativity (and sometimes controversial behaviour) it was fitting to see the Turner prize at the Baltic. Awarded to Martin Boyce, the artist who transforms gallery spaces into modernist urban landscapes, this and other high profile events including the Take That and Kings of Leon concerts at the Stadium of Light has really helped to cement the North East on the entertainment and cultural map; whilst also providing a vital boost to the economy.

As the year draws to a close it is a bitter sweet moment for me as we say goodbye to one of innovative driving forces of the BIC – Willie Herdman, who after joining the team in 1995 after an already illustrious career went on to deliver and support a number of businesses in their own innovative missions.

Fortunately he was here when we heard the news that we had secured funding to deliver the Innovation Programme. A European funded project that will help businesses in the North East become more innovative by allowing them to increase their competitiveness and exploit more opportunities, bringing benefits to the region. Part financed by the European Union’s ERDF Competitiveness Programme 2007-13, securing £724,000 ERDF investment, the programme will help us to support SMEs to become more innovative, productive and consequently promote further growth.

So it with this optimistic thought that I would like to close as I look forward to 2012 and the innovative prospects that it will hopefully bring.

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