A year like no other draws to a close with the vaccination rollout underway providing hope for better and more normal times ahead.
COVID-19 has overturned everyday life in business, at home and for our families. In our region three major industry employers have been disproportionately impacted with business closures and job losses across oil and gas, tourism and hospitality.
This is an important point to reflect and consider what we can take forward from our experiences of the last nine months and what we want our future economy to look like as governments invest in green recovery.
"The pandemic resulted in rapid change. The pace of the response by communities, our healthcare providers, government nationally and locally, businesses and individuals across the workforce demonstrated real strength, adaptability and resilience. ONE provides leadership development, mentoring and a new financial mentoring programme to support business leaders maintain this momentum and agility, as they navigate the changing and challenging environment that includes coronavirus disruption, Brexit and the climate emergency," said Jennifer Craw, CEO of Opportunity North East (ONE).
Despite the global turbulence, and the current economic climate, the region’s long-term strengths and opportunities are more relevant than ever to post-COVID economy. North sea energy transition and the application of digital solutions have been accelerated. Important sectors for Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire including food and drink production, life sciences and tourism are big drivers of recovery and growth.
"Technology , digital working and automated manufacturing have been critical to business success in adapting to the challenges of 2020,” said Ms Craw.
“All of our sector projects and programmes include strong digital content so that tech companies can bring new solutions to market and businesses can get ahead with digital adoption, advanced manufacturing and processes to increase productivity. The projects we support span energy tech and agri-food tech to AI solutions in fracture diagnosis and continue to increase in number and ambition.”
All the region’s main industry sectors have major opportunities in the years ahead and are recognised as both regional and national economic priorities.
Ms Craw said: “Aberdeen and Scotland is uniquely positioned with 50 years’ experience in oil and gas to lead the energy transition, the green recovery and the sustainable energy era that follows. We will achieve this by leveraging our vast potential in net zero carbon; internationalising our strong and competitive energy supply chain and expert workforce; and investing with focus and pace. There is now real urgency to deliver net-zero and government and industry are working together on this through the North Sea transition deal.
“Our dynamic and growing life sciences cluster’s expertise in biologics, digital health and medtech is at the forefront of industry efforts to tackle COVID and other health challenges, including antimicrobial resistance, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Accelerated innovation and commercialisation across the NHS, universities and companies is bringing forward new therapies and technology to benefit patients.
“In food and drink, we have great primary produce and very enterprising, progressive businesses. The focus is on developing on-trend, premium products that command high margins in global markets and driving Industry 4.0 adoption to increase productivity and profitability in manufacturing and processing. We will be one of the most exciting food and drink regions in the UK with an industry that goes from farm and fishery through to fork.
“In our visitor economy there’s huge potential to attract new visitors around adventure tourism and authentic experiences. Enjoying world-renowned food and drink at source and reconnecting with the natural environment, from hills to coastline, with a focus on wellbeing. Visitors can enjoy the best of city and rural experiences and investment in our infrastructure benefits visitors and residents. Place-based development and promotion will also attract new people and businesses, able to work remotely and more flexibly than in the pre-COVID economy,” said Ms Craw.
Looking ahead, the region’s future should be more diversified, greener and sustainable. It can provide our communities, our current workforce and young people with jobs of the future and training opportunities across a range of resilient industries.
"We all know that 2020 has been extraordinarily difficult, but recovery will come and the region is in transition. We have great skills, very enterprising and resourceful people and businesses, and our economic strengths are in areas primed for future growth. We have a record of delivering what we say we will and can secure investment and resources to drive recovery. In 2021, we should be hopeful, fully committed in our efforts and long-term focus, and continue to support one another," said Ms Craw.
SeedPod will help businesses to double the region's food and drink turnover and exports with its focus on innovation, technology and market development.
Existing sector innovation projects – including BioHub and SeedPod backed by the Aberdeen City Region Deal – have moved forward in the year and new projects developed with industry and partners with business cases for government funding.
ONE Tech Hub is a beacon for digital in north east Scotland – the place to create and scale tech companies. SkyScanner co-founder Mark Logan said ONE CodeBase, based in the hub, is an exemplar environment for tech start-ups in his recent Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review for the Scottish Government. The combination of dedicated space and specialist support will fast-track digital business growth.
The Energy Transition Zone (ETZ) will create a net-zero green space, connected to the coastline and Aberdeen South Harbour. It will help transform north east Scotland into a globally integrated energy cluster and provide the base for offshore floating wind and other offshore renewables, for hydrogen and for carbon capture and storage. It will support innovation and high value manufacturing, a globally active supply chain, deliver inclusive jobs, green spaces and other community facilities, making a significant contribution to green economic growth and net-zero targets.
The £40m BioHub project to double the size of the life sciences company cluster moves into its main construction phase in 2021. The new-build, 69,000 square foot facility on the Foresterhill Health Campus will provide specialist support programmes and dedicated laboratory, collaboration and office accommodation for established and growing life sciences businesses, start-ups and spinouts.
The £21 million SeedPod project will help businesses to double the size and value of food and drink production and exports. Its programmes and facilities will accelerate the adoption of advanced manufacturing and use global market insights to inspire businesses to capitalise on emerging and on-trend foods of the future opportunities. Product development facilities and expertise will drive the premiumisation of the region's high-quality produce. Procurement for the main contractor has started, and planning will move forward in the new year.
The Seafood Transformation Project is game-changing for the processing sector that employs more than 4,000 people in our coastal communities with business turnover of £700m a year. The ambitious £77m industry-led five-year action and investment plan aims to create at least 900 new jobs, increase industry turnover by a third and radically improve productivity and margins with a focus on new facilities and infrastructure, advanced manufacturing, product innovation and market development. The business case is now being discussed with government, and the project is attracting partners and funding for the delivery of priority actions over the next six months.
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