Hans Möller, innovation director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership

North East Local Enterprise Partnership innovation director; Hans Möller

How innovation will help unlock economic growth in the North East

By Hans Möller, innovation director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

Innovation sits at the very heart of our region’s road map to success. As a core part of the North East LEP’s Strategic Economic Plan, innovation is one of the ways we will strengthen the economy in the North East and make our contribution to the UK’s industrial strategy; helping to create more and better jobs. By focusing on key growth industries for our region - or ‘smart specialisation’ areas as we refer to them – and fostering an open innovation environment alongside - I believe we can boost our economy and the position of the region as a major innovation player in the Northern Powerhouse and in UK industry.

Passenger Vehicle Manufacturing; Subsea and Offshore Technology; Life Sciences and Healthcare; and Creative, Digital, Software and Technology Based Services are the four areas of industry that currently offer the greatest potential for North East economic growth, not just in terms of output but also in terms of inward investment. They are uniquely placed to expand into other innovation areas that will strengthen the sector as a whole.

Passenger vehicle manufacturing has gone from strength to strength this year. I was delighted with both the news that the North East automotive sector will continue to thrive following Nissan’s announcement that the new Qashqai and the new X-Trail SUV will be built at the Nissan Sunderland plant. The wider sector hit the headlines shortly after this announcement as the North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA) celebrated a major landmark by signing up its 200th company to the cluster.

The Life Sciences and Healthcare sector is another area in which there is huge potential for growth and expansion through innovation. The North East is already a major player in pharmaceutical manufacturing with companies like GlaxoSmithKline and MSD based in the region. The continued investment in the sector shows real confidence in the North East and that’s something we must galvanize.

By expanding operations to include research and development we can start to tap into emerging markets, like specialised medicines. Attracting investment will be essential if we want to grow these smart spec areas. One of the best examples of innovation in action is the development at Newcastle Science Central. Soon it will be home to three National Centres for Excellence as well as a host of new innovation business. It’s helping position Newcastle and the North East as a hotbed of innovation, which is attracting investment and expertise.

Another project I’ve personally been delighted to be involved in is the new Innovation SuperNetwork. Launched in partnership with Venturefest North East, Innovate UK and the innovation community across the region, the SuperNetwork will enable organisations in all sectors to connect, supporting business-to-business collaboration and creating links between business and research bodies, catapults and innovation hubs. It’s a unique resource for the North East and I’d encourage anyone not familiar with the SuperNetwork to please get in touch.

We’re already delivering some exciting projects and we’d love to partner with more businesses to create new networks across the region.

We’ve achieved a lot in 2016 but that hasn’t dampened our ambitions moving forward. We’re currently working with partners to explore the possibility of the North East becoming the national test bed for a new 5G network. Our ambition is that the organisations that come to test their new products and services will choose to stay here, creating more and better jobs and cultivating a highly skilled workforce in the North East.

2017 will also see a number of new developments at NETPark in County Durham, which continues to go from strength to strength. The North East Technology Park has delivered significant inward investment because it is a world-class facility here in the North East. It’s a breeding ground for innovative companies with global ambitions.

As a region we are leading the way in many areas of innovation. The North East has one of the fastest growing digital economies outside London and our energy sector is home to global heavyweights including Siemens and GE Oil and Gas. Innovation is, and will continue to be, key to the economic success of the North East.