Building a strong ‘knowledge economy’ is key to the North East’s economic growth. Sunderland is leading the way by working with innovators, entrepreneurs, universities and business organisations to build a knowledge-intensive economy.
This in turn will improve productivity and develop new areas of the economy where there is potential for future prosperity by building on strengths.
Sector strengths include Sunderland’s world-class automotive sector, with a thriving automotive supply sector not only producing but researching and developing new products in the city.
For example, Hyperdrive Innovation designs and manufactures its products from its Sunderland site, bringing to the market clean energy alternatives to fossil fuels and working with national and international brands to electrify their fleets for vehicle use in city centres, construction sites and transport hubs.
It secured a £3.2m investment from venture capital firms to launch two new battery systems researched, developed and produced in Sunderland during 2017.
The company is on track to triple its turnover this year after winning a host of major international clients. It has also passed rigorous United Nation safety tests to allow the firm to ship its products across the globe without hindrance. Hyperdrive’s CEO Allan Cairns said: “This is a game changer for Hyperdrive. We’re in a period of substantial growth, and this certification is a key driver for our export strategy.”
Lear Corporation’s decision to site its European R&D at Sunderland highlights the city’s outstanding credentials as a first-choice location for knowledge economy and R&D companies. The US automotive giant chose Sunderland for its European Foam centre of excellence against strong competition across Europe. The investment will bring new, highly skilled jobs to the city, and further extend Lear’s presence at Rainton Bridge.
Lear Corporation’s Gideon Jewel said: “We chose Sunderland because of the proven capability and exceptional productivity of the workforce we have here and the consistent support we have had from Sunderland City Council since we opened the plant in 2011.”
ZF TRW’s UK research and development team, based at Sunderland, created new steering technology which led to a £4.6m investment over two years ago for an extension to assemble electric motors featuring the new technology.
The new development is a belt-drive electrically powered steering innovation, which cuts fuel usage and carbon emissions to make cars both more economical and environmentally-friendly. ZF TRW exports 100% of the products it makes in Sunderland.
Nissan, which has invested more than £4bn in Sunderland, supports 40,000 supply chain jobs in the UK and has produced almost nine million cars since it opened in 1986, with an impressive track record of attracting new models to Sunderland, including the all-electric LEAF.
The new generation electric Nissan LEAF features ProPilot technology, enabling autonomous drive functionality in single-lane highway driving. The technology controls the steering, acceleration and braking in a single lane on the highway, assisting drivers during heavy traffic congestion or during long commutes.
Nissan is a major supporter of the proposed International Advanced Manufacturing Park (IAMP), a nationally significant infrastructure project being brought forward by Sunderland in partnership with South Tyneside, predicted to deliver over £400m of private sector investment. This will attract new businesses, including European-scale ‘super suppliers’ linked to the automotive industry, plus a range of energy, low carbon, logistics and offshore manufacturing industries. It will create over 5,000 additional jobs in the city.
Increasingly the city’s tech and digital companies are engaging with the automotive sector and developing innovative ways to support their growth. The 2017 Tech Nation report confirms that Sunderland is one of the best places in the UK to start and grow a digital tech business. It reports that the turnover of the city’s digital tech businesses grew by 101% between 2011 and 2015, and supports over 5,700 jobs.
Home to over 220 software firms and the first UK city to offer blanket superfast broadband, Sunderland’s tech sector is growing in terms of size, reputation and competitiveness.
Innovation in Sunderland
Cllr Harry Trueman, deputy leader of Sunderland City Council said: “Innovative companies are key to the city’s growth. Our aim is to build a knowledge economy eco-system, in which corporate organisations and smaller businesses can find innovation solutions and cross fertilisation opportunities across all sectors.
“As with Nissan, Lear, Hyperdrive, ZF TRW and many other companies, the city’s close links between the university, businesses and city council have proved to be a winning combination, producing positive results that affect companies’ bottom lines.
“In this city we have a remarkable heritage of pioneering innovations, a formidable reputation for productivity, and a talent for creating strong international links with companies, governments and agencies worldwide. Taken together, these qualities can generate a powerful platform on which to develop a strong knowledge economy for the city, the region and the UK.”