Building strong foundations in County Durham

November 5, 2019

From its new headquarters in Aykley Heads, Business Durham, part of Durham County Council, is working to eliminate barriers to entry for start-ups, SMEs and inward investors alike. Richard Dawson speaks to managing director Brian Archer about some of the county’s most promising developments

With investments of around £3.4 billion coming into County Durham over the next few years, the county council’s economic development arm Business Durham is wasting no time initiating projects to stimulate business activity and deliver economic growth in the area.

From providing infrastructure and commercial property space to attract inward investors, to offering business consultancy services and access to finance for start-ups and SMEs, Business Durham is committed to supporting enterprises through their economic journey.

A big part of what Business Durham does is try to reduce or eliminate barriers to entry for individuals and companies looking to do business in the region. Three of the organisation’s most recent projects can be attributed directly to this effort.

Announced just last month on October 14 was the beginning of work on a brand-new development just off the A19 near Seaham.

Jade Business Park is a 55-acre employment site with the potential to support up to 2500 jobs. It is being constructed to take advantage of the North East’s growth opportunities for manufacturing and to ensure that the infrastructure is in place for when investors come knocking.

Brian Archer, managing director of Business Durham, reflects: “Over the last six months we’ve invested just shy of £20 million into these new strategic employment sites and we’re intervening, if you like, where there’s a market failure.”

By market failure, Brian means that where prospective investors might struggle to raise the necessary finance to develop land for their businesses, Business Durham essentially steps in to provide it. This ensures that there are fewer barriers to a company reaching its growth potential.

Another such project is the agreement of a 30-year head-lease on Merchant Anglo’s Station Place in Newton Aycliffe. If planning permission is approved, this will allow Merchant Anglo to secure £5 million of investment that it wouldn’t otherwise have been able to, as well as strengthen ties between the council and businesses like Hitachi Rail, which has an assembly plant on the same site.

Phase one of the development of Jade Business Park is due to be completed by summer 2020 and will see the provision of seven new industrial units for distribution, technology and manufacturing businesses.

In a major vote of confidence for the site, the first tenant has been confirmed as Sumitomo Electric Wiring Systems (Europe) Ltd (SEWS-E). The global company is a leading supplier to the advanced manufacturing industry and its presence on Jade Business Park will create around 75 new jobs.

The development of Jade Business Park has also been made possible by the North East LEP, which has committed almost £14 million of funding for highway and infrastructure works, giving the strategic site the best possible chance of success.

A shining example of just how successful these kinds of commercial developments can be is Sedgefield’s NETPark. The science, engineering and technology park has a growing reputation for the commercialisation of new research and development.

“NETPark is a technology park for knowledge- intensive, research-based businesses,” says Brian. “We’ve got some world-class businesses there that are global leaders in what they do. It’s been a real success story.”

Working closely with Durham University, the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) and the High-Value Manufacturing Catapult, which all have facilities on NETPark, Business Durham has recently announced phase three of the development. This will provide an additional 26 acres of land, creating space for companies that need room to scale up their operations.

Phase three has been initiated to support businesses as they grow. Business Durham recognises the need to provide facilities, advice and funding for companies who are ready to take the next step. In that sense, they’re building for the future.

Having that scalable space at NETPark is vital for stimulating growth and keeping businesses in the area. But Business Durham is going a step further by offering to tailor developments to company requirements.

Brian adds: “We will support businesses to grow. If it’s a technology business, for example, and their particular industry requires clean laboratories, there’s space at NETPark where they can actually bespoke and specify what they want.”

Of the £35 million worth of commercial property that Business Durham manages, 84 per cent are occupied and in the last 12 months, the organisation has attracted seven major international investors and created almost 4000 jobs in the region.

Part of that success is down to the relationships the team has built with the business community. These relationships are highlighted in the council’s Powered By People campaign, which is packed full of positive testimonials from businesses who are based in County Durham.

Brian comments: “We’re very fortunate that at Business Durham, we’ve got a team of really gifted and talented people that know the business of economic development inside and out.

“The Business Durham brand is therefore really highly regarded. I think we’ve got stronger relationships with businesses than any other area. Business Durham is like an extension of their business.”

In Jade Business Park, NETPark and Station Place, County Durham has business, manufacturing and technology sites that will boost GDP for a part of the North East that is looking to build a prosperous future – enabling growth, creating jobs and improving lives in County Durham.

Business Durham

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