The Last Word

November 6, 2021

Closing this month’s issue of North East Times, Sarah Slaven, managing director at Business Durham – the economic development arm of Durham County Council – highlights the huge potential of the next phase in Sedgefield-based NETPark’s expansion and explains how the organisation has helped firms during the pandemic, and how it will maintain its support going forward.

Plans were recently approved to expand NETPark, with the blueprint – backed by £50 million investment from Durham County Council – including an ambition to create more than 1200 jobs. Just how important is the hub to County Durham’s business landscape, and how will its growth help the area’s commercial sector post-COVID-19?

NETPark is one of the UK’s premier science, engineering and technology parks, and is a hugely important innovation asset for County Durham and the North East.

It provides world-class infrastructure, facilities and support to enable companies engaged in science and research and development to compete with the best in the world.

We are seeing a real demand for the specialist facilities on-site from companies that want to grow, scale-up and commercialise their operations, and the expansion will enable us to accommodate this growing demand, both from established businesses and from companies looking to be part of NETPark’s collaborative innovation community.

The next phase of growth will bring more well-paid, highly- skilled jobs; help retain graduate talent; increase research and development opportunities, including commercialisation of innovation from our universities and businesses; and ultimately cement NETPark’s reputation.

Staying on the topic of the pandemic, how have you supported businesses during the last 18 months to navigate the threat of coronavirus? And how difficult has it been to operate in such a changeable landscape?

County Durham businesses have displayed significant resilience in rising to the challenges.

Indeed, many of them have demonstrated tremendous agility, adaptability and innovation, which has enabled them to adapt how they work or diversify to survive.

It has been crucial throughout that those businesses have been able to get the right support, which is where Business Durham hasbeen able to help.

From early in the pandemic, businesses were being bombarded by information from the Government and many other sources. One of the first things we did was use our existing links with businesses to direct them to the information they needed and the support available.

In January, Durham County Council launched the Durham Business Recovery Grant, designed and delivered by the team at Business Durham.

The scheme has supported 339 businesses across County Durham to overcome challenges caused by the pandemic and helped safeguard more than 3500 jobs.

4Looking to the end of this year and ahead to 2022, what plans do you have in place to further support business growth and attract new investment to County Durham?

There are plenty of opportunities on the horizon, particularly in emerging sectors such as the green economy, the space sector and through increasing digitalisation.

However, there are also lots of challenges as the global economy recovers from the pandemic.

At Business Durham, we continue to review and adapt the support we offer businesses to help meet those challenges and take forward opportunities.

To support growth and expansion, our Finance Durham Fund offers flexible debt and equity finance, and grants are available through the County Durham Growth Fund for businesses investing in new premises or capital equipment.

The importance of innovation has been highlighted through the pandemic and now, more than ever, we need businesses that are willing to innovate, as well as business owners and leaders with ideas and ambition.

The Durham Future Innovation Building Programme and the Durham Ambitious Business Start-Ups and Durham City Incubator schemes are all aimed at helping innovative and enterprising individuals and companies establish and grow in County Durham.