Posted by

Nora Senior, President, British Chambers of Commerce

29 Jul 2013

If you are not a native of, or currently living in the North East, chances are that your perceptions of business there are of industry – manufacturing, shipyards and engineering. And for good reason. The large Nissan site in Sunderland has been declared the most productive UK car plant ever, and only recently, the Hitachi factory in County Durham won an order worth £1.2m to build a fleet of new, state-of-the-art intercity trains. In fact, the latest results from the British Chambers of Commerce’s quarterly economic survey (QES) show that the North East region is outperforming the national average in the manufacturing sector after seeing a sales increase of 37 per cent this quarter.

However, the North East is becoming increasingly invigorated with new hi-tech and digital businesses who are driving the local economy in new and innovative ways. Thirty years ago, there were less than ten technology businesses in the whole of the North East. Now there are more than 300, with London being the only place with a higher rate of tech start ups in the UK. So the region is certainly doing its bit towards rebalancing the economy.

Look at some of the companies who belong to the North East Chamber of Commerce. Atomhawk Design in Gateshead for example - a world leading art and design specialist who provides content to the video games, film and digital media industries. Since the company began in July 2009, it has grown from four employees to eighteen, with an impressive increase in turnover of 300% in three years. Or Durable Technologies in Hartlepool who help businesses become more energy efficient through their controlled lighting systems – a company which recorded growth of around 80 per cent in 2012.

But here is the challenge.  Unlike many industries, high-tech companies need more than just capital, they need highly trained people with specific skill sets. It will be increasingly important for the region's five universities and colleges to shape courses that will equip people with the skills that will benefit the industries of the future – so that the North East goes on to become a hub for innovation and technology.

The North East has phenomenal assets – fantastic people, companies, universities, cities, countryside, public and cultural institutions, natural resources and a great location on the exporting edge of Europe. But it could do more to project these assets and do more to promote its strong identity nationally and internationally.  In that way, the North East will ensure it will continue to grow as a strong enough magnet for talent, trade and tourism.