More on This Year’s Highland Business Dinner Principal Sponsor, Highlands and Islands Enterprise

It’s never too early to talk

Stephanie Andrew, HIE’s head of business growth in the Inner Moray Firth area, invites business leaders to get in touch about their growth plans

I’m a great believer in the value and the power of the engagement we have with businesses and how working closely together helps deliver growth and create jobs.

That’s because, in my many years with HIE, I’ve seen the extent of the impact this can have.

Everyone is familiar with the challenges that virtually all industries have been facing over the past few years; not least Brexit, COVID, labour and skills shortages, and inflation dramatically driving up the costs of doing business.

Fortunately, we’re also able to point to the many strengths of the region’s economy and to new and emerging opportunities.

While tourism and food and drink remain at the heart of our economy, we’ve also seen impressive growth in the likes of life sciences, renewable energy and creative industries.

Added to that are the emerging opportunities around net zero, space, Green Freeport, technology and automation, and the blue economy, to name a few.

Not only is all of this creating skilled jobs and boosting the region’s economy, but these new and growing sectors are also set to feed existing supply chains and create new ones.

So of course we’re optimistic. Why wouldn’t we be?

It’s no secret that the Japanese giant, Sumitomo, is seriously keen on locating its new subsea cable manufacturing facility right here in the Highlands.

The creation of a Green Freeport has the potential to attract other similarly large-scale manufacturing activity to the region.

This month we’ve seen construction start on the new Sutherland Spaceport, which is expected to accommodate up to 12 satellite launches a year. With this comes considerable opportunity for businesses in the IMF area to benefit from the growth of the sector and play a vital role in developing and strengthening the local supply chain whilst creating highly skilled and highly paid jobs.

Earlier this year we also completed reinstatement of the Cairngorm funicular railway, a valuable feature of a year-round attraction that is central to a much wider local economy.

Against this backdrop, companies across the patch are seeing the opportunities and developing new and ambitious growth strategies.

This is where we come in. There are many instances where we have helped accelerate plans, and bring forward the resulting benefits.

We’ve done this, not simply through financial support, but by forming ongoing relationships and continuous engagement. This in turn leads to new connections being made, new doors opened, match-making for collaboration, and the development of products and services for new markets.

This is why we invite businesses to speak to us early about their growth projects.

While I’m highlighting the crucial nature of relationships and engagement, and the strengths of the region, I’m certainly not downplaying the extent of the challenges our region’s businesses have been facing, and still face, or the importance of financial support.

Sectors that have been disproportionately impacted, namely food and drink, tourism and creative industries, have been feeling the pain more intensely than most and taking longer to recover.

Efforts by many companies in these sectors to tighten their belts have included investment in energy efficiency measures. While this is effective in cutting costs, it also makes a valuable contribution to the net zero transition.

This is why we set up the new Green Grants Fund. The Fund aims to encourage and support more eligible companies in these sectors to follow suit by offering ‘green grants’ of between £25,000 and £150,000 (50% of project costs). The fund is also open to applications from social enterprises in any sector. 

Clearly financial support is of course still a very important part of the mix, but it’s most effective when the relationships are in place and engagement ongoing.

So if your businesses is in one of the many sectors that qualify for our support, talk to us. Let us know what you’re thinking in terms of growth plans and we’ll see if we are able to help accelerate your journey.

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