Leading the next industrial revolution

April 24, 2020


The Tees Valley remains a central element to industrial progress, with its cutting-edge digital and tech sector. Fresh from unveiling plans to further boost the area’s presence, Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen explains to Steven Hugill why the region will remain an innovation hotbed

We need to look to the future, as well as respect our past,” says Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen.

“There are some fantastic things happening right now in our digital and tech sector, and we’re thinking big to make sure it grows, creating high-quality, well-paid jobs for generations to come.”

The reasons for such progress are plentiful. Teesside University’s enduring reputation for fashioning highly-skilled digital graduates means operators have access to a deep talent pool when strengthening their teams.

Furthermore, top-class infrastructure and business support provide companies, from early start-ups to more established ventures, with invaluable guidance to make national and international strides.

Middlesbrough’s Boho zone, which sits as Tees Valley’s flagship digital, creative and business hub, is home to numerous global-leading companies, such as Lego game maker Double Eleven, which recently revealed Asian expansion plans.

Elsewhere, DigitalCity – a private-public partnership led by Teesside University – provides pivotal support programmes to digital and nondigital firms and counts Christian Frausig, founder of Gateshead-based Hammerhead VR, and Matt McGough, the man behind Ithica Films, among its alumni.

Nearby, Stockton’s Fusion Hive is another catalyst for innovation, offering space for companies keen to bolster their market presence. What this all means, says Mayor Houchen, is an incredibly fertile landscape that puts Tees Valley very firmly on the international map.

“Digital is really beginning to take off in a big way, with almost double the employment growth in Tees Valley between 2015 and 2017 versus nationally, at 17 per cent to eight per cent,” he says.

“From 2015 to 2018, we’ve seen 12 per cent growth in the number of businesses in the sector too. “These operate in every corner of Tees Valley.

“Exis Technologies, in Darlington, is the leading supplier of IT systems for the management of dangerous goods in sea transport, while Northgate runs its software services for the public sector in Hartlepool and Cubic’s global operations centre manages traffic across the world from Stockton,” continues Mayor Houchen.

“Boho has Double Eleven and Animmersion, which is a leader in immersive digital visualisation tools, such as interactive displays.

“We also host the annual international Animex festival, which is the largest event of its kind in the UK and sees professionals, academics, researchers, students and animation and games lovers from the UK and Europe swap ideas, expertise and cuttingedge developments,” adds Mayor Houchen. Strong progress, then.

But if Tees Valley is truly committed to further strengthening its digital and tech community, its success to date, says Mayor Houchen, must be used as the first steps on a much longer journey.

To that end, work is underway. Alongside Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston, Houchen last year unveiled a £250m project aimed at transforming Tees Valley’s skyline and creating more than 2000 jobs in the process.

“Middlesbrough’s ambition is to be the UK’s Digital City,” says Mayor Houchen.

“We have signed off £26.5m to kick-start plans for the first £30m office development of a much wider £250m investment – the biggest single investment in Middlesbrough’s history.

“The bold vision includes the highest office and residential towers for 30 miles as part of a £45m first phase that will lead to 1000 new jobs in these dynamic sectors, with the potential to grow to 2000 jobs,” adds Mayor Houchen.

“Construction will start in summer 2020 and will see the creation of a digital campus, a 750-seat indoor amphitheatre beneath a glass atrium and a 400-seat outdoor amphitheatre.”

As well as supporting nextgeneration developments, Mayor Houchen says the investments will also help catalyse traditional industries – as they transition to more digitally-focused operations – which, he says, will position the region at the forefront of the next industrial revolution.

“Our area is well-known for its manufacturing strengths and bringing this together with our digital expertise can put us at the forefront of industrial change,” Mayor Houchen adds.

“Many people assume digital is an end in itself, but it is also central to making sure sectors, such as advanced manufacturing and chemicals, are running more smoothly.

“Digital transformation will reshape the way these industries work and we’re now looking at ways that enable our companies to lead the way across innovation.

“There is some truly amazing work going on in Tees Valley, with our highly-skilled workers using their expertise in a range of sectors.

“We led the world in the first Industrial Revolution, and we can lead the world in the next one too.”

For more information about Mayor Houchen’s support for Tees Valley’s digital and tech sector, visit www.teesvalley-ca.gov.uk/mayor

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