Tees Valley: Embracing the new and forging the future

Tees Valley: Embracing the new and forging the future

Tees Valley has a glorious industrial past and the same spirit which built great industries is now driving innovation to build a bright economic future.

Tees Valley is one of the great engines of the UK economy, an area which helped power the industrial revolution and which still boasts world-beating industries. Its 280,000 strong, highly-skilled workforce, employed by a business base of 16,500 firms, contributes £11.4bn to the economy each year.

Tees Valley has world-class expertise and critical mass in key sectors including: process/ chemical; energy; advanced manufacturing (particularly oil and gas, renewables, metals and automotive); digital and logistics.

Manufacturing makes up 14% of the area’s GVA, compared to 10% nationally. It boasts England’s largest exporting port (which is also the third biggest port in the UK), an international airport and direct road and rail routes to key locations.

Chemicals and Process Tees Valley has the largest integrated chemical complex in the UK, it is the second largest in Europe in terms of manufacturing capacity and is home to 58% of the UK’s chemical industry. More than 1,400 companies are directly involved in the chemicals and process industry and its supply chain in Tees Valley.

The sector exports £12bn of product and contributes £2.2bn a year to gross value added to the area. Tees Valley has also seen the highest business start-up rates in the UK and it has also enjoyed the highest growth in exports in the country. This economic and industrial strength did not come about by accident. Tees Valley was at the forefront of the industrial revolution and pioneered many of the processes and products which have been staple to the modern global economy.

Innovations which were conceived and developed in the area include the invention of the safety match, the operation of the first major public steam railway in the world and the creation of products from perspex and ammonia to polyethylene and nylon.

The world is now well into the digital revolution, globalisation has transformed economies around the world, some old industries have disappeared or declined in importance, but Tees Valley has continued to innovate, to develop and attract new industries and it is helping to frame the new economy.

Industrial sites remain a key part of the Tees Valley economy but there has also been significant growth and development in many other sectors, including digital and creative, engineering, biologics and healthcare and contact centres. The area has a growing capability in these new industries, as well as, subsea and the low-carbon economy. There was a 20% rise in digital companies in Tees Valley between 2013 and 2014, higher than all other LEP areas.

Tees Valley is home to the UK’s largest hydrogen plant, the UK’s first biomass power station, a world leading graphene plant, a subsea training facility unique in the UK and it will also soon be home to one of the largest advanced gasification facilities and the National Centre for Biologics, as well as the UK’s first offshore wind validation centre and innovative new centres on biomedical research.

The area is already a leading destination for the low carbon economy, with a growing supply chain. It is a designated centre for offshore renewable engineering and it is leading the UK in hosting plants that produce biofuel and bioethanol. Tees Valley is also home to Hartlepool Nuclear Power Station.

Led by Teesside Collective, a cluster of leading industries including Lotte Chemicals, BOC, Growhow and Sembcorp, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is a ground-breaking initiative with a vision to establish Tees Valley as the prime location for future clean industrial development by creating Europe’s first CCS equipped industrial zone. CCS is a proven technology that can capture, transport and permanently store up to 90% of the CO2 emissions produced by industrial facilities, preventing them from entering the atmosphere.

The area’s digital and creative sector has seen significant growth, with the annual percentage rise in the number of digital firms in 2014 higher than any other LEP area. Tees Valley’s digital cluster is supported by Teesside University, one of the top 20 places in the world for animation, and host of the annual Animex International Festival. Innovation is written into the very DNA of Tees Valley businesses. It was recently reported that 24% of Tees Valley businesses were introducing product or service innovation - higher than anywhere in the North and, in a government study, Tees Valley was named most innovative area in the North and it came seventh in the UK, above London, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester.

In another survey of the percentage of companies introducing new to market products or services, Tees Valley came second at just under 25%, behind Oxfordshire at just over 25% and ahead of London at under 20%. In terms of R&D expenditure by business per full time employee, the area was ranked third, at around £500.

Innovation, however, is not something that happens of itself, it has to be nurtured and encouraged and to that end the area has a number of world-beating assets in place.
The Innovation Accelerator at Wilton Centre is dedicated to nurturing innovative businesses within the science, technology, engineering and life sciences sectors, combining industry know-how and leading edge facilities to support new and established companies in the North East. This facility has a 1,000m² fully integrated technology incubator and the Innovation Accelerator. It is able to offer pilot plants, specialist laboratories and office space to enable fledgling companies to develop new products and processes.

Materials Processing Institute is an Open-Access Technology Centre serving organisations which work with materials, materials processing or energy. It offers expertise, equipment and laboratory facilities. Its pilot facilities for the melting and casting of metals ranges in capacity from 100g to 7 tonnes and includes options for vacuum treatment and ingot casting, together with full analytical support.

Teesside University is home to five research institutes which have a track record in translating research into business benefit, particularly in digital, manufacturing, construction and advanced project planning.

The Technology Futures Institute is an international leader in key areas of research and innovation in engineering sustainability, manufacturing and process engineering, analytical instrumentation, measurement and control engineering.

Research in the Digital Futures Institute includes Artificial Intelligence (AI), Interactive Systems and Formal Methods.

DigitalCity is the driver for Tees Valley’s digital sector and for the application of digital technologies in the key growth sectors of health, process and advanced manufacturing. This public-private partnership provides professional support to a thriving digital cluster, including a stream of innovative start-up and spin-out companies delivering new technology products and services for business.

The Welding Institute (TWI) is an R&D organisation with industry-leading capabilities in a number of areas. Specialising in joining techniques and technologies, structural integrity and material properties, TWI has been providing advice, information and engineering services to industry for almost 70 years. TWI also operates a new £6m development at Teesside Advanced Manufacturing Park (TAMP) which includes a research and validation centre for offshore wind, the first centre of its kind in the UK.

The Centre for Subsea Technology Awareness, Training and Education, C-STATE, is a collaboration between industry and education and the first subsea training centre of its kind.

Part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, CPI is a technology innovation centre that uses applied knowledge in science and engineering to enable clients to develop, prove, prototype and scale-up the next generation of products and processes. CPI helps to support innovations in the manufacture of biologics and biotechnology, enabling its clients to develop products and prove processes with minimal risk.

The £38m National Biologics Manufacturing Centre, opened in Darlington in 2015, will support the growth of the UK biologics industry. The Biotherapeutics Factory of the Future initiative is part of a £50m CPI project to develop process technologies and deliver personalised medicines via conventional and synthetic biology.

So, Tees Valley continues to lead the way on innovation, but it is not going to rest on its laurels. Tees Valley Unlimited’s Innovation Leadership Group (ILG) has outlined an Innovation Strategy, highlighting its commitment to making Tees Valley the place to go for innovative businesses.

In the words of Nigel Perry, chair of the group and chief executive for the Centre for Process Innovation: “Only by creating new products and processes and exploring new technology solutions, can we grow our business base, export our expertise and produce new jobs for our residents. Investing in innovation will help us live up to our historic reputation for being at the forefront of invention and innovation.’’