Investing in north east Scotland's entrepreneurial economy provides an accelerated road to recovery for the region, its key sectors, businesses and people, writes Jennifer Craw, chief executive of Opportunity North East in the October edition of The Business in the Press and Journal.
The pandemic, climate crisis, and new international trading environment have amplified long-standing challenges in Scotland’s economy.
Scotland has to become more productive and more competitive globally, focus on high-value economic activity, and move to a low-carbon economy at a pace.
Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire have a record as one of the most investable, productive and entrepreneurial economies in the UK, with high levels of business start-up, research and development, exports and income levels. But we face challenges, short term supply issues, people and skills shortages, the climate crisis and the pace of technological change.
The region’s economic transformation should reflect the just transition ambition. To preserve employment, retain our talent pool and re-skill and up-skill our workforce for the new jobs created in the evolution to a low-carbon economy. Low-carbon jobs are not yet available at scale. Investing in critical industries and businesses through this accelerated period of change in the short to medium term will help deliver them.
The immediate opportunity is to encourage, nurture and support the innovators and entrepreneurs and accelerate business scale-up. Make investment available at critical stages of growth and support founders and leaders with expert advice, mentoring, leadership development, learning journeys, and peer-networking. Focus on low-carbon, digital, innovation and internationalisation to inspire ambition and accelerate growth. Prioritise investment in and with our best growing businesses and leaders, from start-ups through to scaling established enterprises.
Low-carbon and digital tech are the defining priorities of our age and the most significant new market opportunity for global knowledge, services, and technology. Areas where Scotland has a genuine advantage – including energy, food and drink production and manufacturing, and life sciences – and our natural economy must be prioritised for investment to secure early market share.
Prioritise investment in collaborative innovation within businesses and academic and research communities and accelerate its commercialisation to increase the number of start-ups and spinouts. Build better connections between industry and academia. And specific pathways for innovators to become founders or collaborate with the commercial sector to develop solutions that will drive the low-carbon revolution and solve severe challenges in the health and wellbeing of the nation – and launch them to market.
Investment in high-value manufacturing. Industry 4.0, including automation, digital and robotics, is transforming manufacturing and processing with significant productivity and environmental gains while creating new, higher-skill and higher-value jobs across sectors, including agriculture, food and drink manufacturing, energy and life sciences.
Internationalisation and market development to grow the scale and reach of Scotland’s premium products and services. Support businesses to focus on high-value export markets and create strong links to consumers, customers and markets to inspire innovation. Provide market insights, in-market expertise and financial support to increase the pace of market entry and growth. Adopt a global mindset to secure new international collaborations and attract investment into businesses across the region.
These focus areas will have the most significant and most immediate impact on the economy. They are Opportunity North East’s action and investment priorities across Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire’s key industry sectors.
The goal is to stimulate business creation and growth to provide more higher-value jobs. To catalyse the country's innovative founders, support them early, make finance available to them when needed, and build a vibrant peer to peer network that inspires ambition.
Businesses have proved to be agile and adaptable in the most difficult period of the past 18 months. Public sector co-investment will be critical to achieving transformational change at pace.
The £14.3 million North East Economic Recovery and Skills Fund (NEERSF) announced recently by the Scottish Government recognises this region’s challenges and opportunities, unique partnership approach to economic recovery and growth, and its ability to deliver.
The £6 million NEERSF activity that Opportunity North East will lead and deliver over the next six months will build on critical areas of action with a positive impact of business growth support and direct funding for businesses to implement change.
Investment in this region will return long-term dividends for the future economy, the opportunities, the health and wellbeing, and quality of life it provides for all.
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