With the Tees region’s businesses facing severe challenges pulling through the Covid crisis, we asked some of our leading business lights for reasons to be positive about our future. Here’s what they had to say…
Zoe Lewis, chief executive and principal, Middlesbrough College
The people of the Tees Valley are both resilient and innovative, and our businesses are well versed at reinventing themselves in the wake of economic challenges. We have all of the assets and building blocks in place, which with support from the combined authority, can stimulate a revival of our economy post the Covid shutdown.
There are exciting developments on the horizon including the South Tees Development site, the potential of a free port and the plans to specialise in carbon capture and storage.
Middlesbrough College will support the recovery through our apprenticeship training arm, Northern Skills Group, and through our technical training experts, TTE. Businesses will have access to more skilled people than ever before and the arrival of a new Institute of Technology on Teesside will ensure that businesses have access to those higher skills they are likely to need to maximise the opportunities associated with our region’s recovery.
Peter Snaith, partner, Womble Bond Dickinson
As we wonder how long the period of recovery from the economic impact of Covid-19 will take, we should take confidence from the fact that we have been in similar circumstances before. We have resilient businesses in our region with strong leaders who have shown their ability to adapt to new challenges and to grasp fresh opportunities.
Businesses like our chemical companies, which form the foundation of so many of our global industries, have reinvented themselves before and they are doing so again. For example, the solutions to the war on plastics still rest in our region, as our manufacturers work hard to enable themselves to build a truly circular economy, making good business out of using our waste to recreate the products and consumables we are accustomed to having without further draining the planets natural resources.
We are also fortunate to be home to the largest industrial development site in Europe with the South Tees site that is attracting inward investment from across the world as well as the UK. In contrast with the economic crash of 2008, there is no shortage of liquidity in the market. Financial institutions and private equity houses have capital to invest in strong businesses which can help our region thrive again.
Bob Cuffe, vice-chair, Darlington Building Society, non-executive director, Resolution Publishing
Nothing has prepared any of us in business for this. There is no playbook and none of us have been on a Managing Through A Pandemic course. However, business leaders in Teesside should remain positive about the challenges ahead because they are not alone.
I’ve seen more collaboration, support and contact between our leaders in recent weeks than ever before. We are there for each other – sharing great practice, offering help and offering a shoulder when it’s needed. Leadership can be a lonely place. But not on Teesside.
Mike Odysseas, founder and managing director, Odyssey Systems
The shift to home working in March gave many businesses an unexpected introduction to the long-term advantages of modern telecommunication systems. Reliability and resilience are proven, as is its ability to deliver a more cost-effective, efficient, and responsive way of working.
It is estimated that through the continued adoption of remote working practices and hot desking, businesses could reduce their office space requirements by two thirds – leading to huge saving in overheads. This flexible approach will raise staff retention rates by improving work life balance, which in turn can help the UK address declining productivity rates by increasing actual performance through a new and more efficient way of working.
However, I believe that the widespread adoption and acceptance of this technology makes geographical location far less important. This offers huge opportunities for Tees businesses, giving them a competitive edge over rivals in areas like London and the South-East, where operating costs are higher.
Ben Houchen, Tees Valley mayor
It is absolutely vital that we do all we can to support local businesses. Businesses across Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool are not only the backbone of our economy, but they are also people’s livelihoods, and they are currently facing greater pressures than ever before.
To support our amazing businesses, at the start of the pandemic I launched the Business Support Helpline to provide advice and support to businesses during the pandemic along with Buy Local Tees Valley to connect local people with local businesses. And I have now unveiled a new fund of almost £1m that will pay the wages of more than 100 apprentices across Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool.
Work has already started at the former SSI steelworks, spades are in the ground at our airport, developing a high quality business park, our region is at the front of the queue for a freeport and work will start on our £35m plans for the Middlesbrough station upgrade which will deliver a direct service to London in 2021.
Now I’m rolling out a package of measures that will be the building blocks for a stronger economy and, with my plan to attract new investment and create good quality local jobs, we will bounce back.
Jane Turner, professor of enterprise and pro vice-chancellor (enterprise and business engagement), Teesside University
There are many sectors in the Tees Valley that are of strategic significance to the region including digital, professional services, construction and manufacturing – and there is collective determination to ensure that they are supported to rebound.
There are also significant infrastructure projects, including the opportunities on the STDC site and Net Zero Teesside that will be very relevant in our bounce back. We have a local industrial strategy with innovation at the core and have seen so many examples of regional companies pivoting their businesses, illustrating our ability to innovate when facing adversity. As a university, we are working with some incredible business leaders who are remaining positive and determined.
Looking forward to the short and medium term, there will be a requirement to re-skill and up-skill some of our workforce and for businesses to support young people to ensure that they get the employment opportunities that they deserve. Our experiences of economic shocks have enabled us to develop significant resolve, determination and an ability to galvanise as a collective around a shared vision, so a bounce back is well within our reach if we draw from our combined capacity and capability.
Elizabeth Armstrong, managing director, Latimer Hinks Solicitors
Tees Valley businesses are known for their resilience. Our own business has stood in the heart Darlington for more than 125 years, supporting local families, entrepreneurs, and the wider community. We have seen the spirit and drive that people, particularly business owners, in our region have, and that is a huge reason to be positive.
Many local businesses have continued to work, albeit remotely, ensuring that the local economy could withstand the coronavirus crisis. The majority of our staff worked from home or had to use creative solutions to continue to deliver services to our clients. This “can do” attitude has helped many businesses to become stronger, which will pay dividends over the next year.
The region should also take comfort from the fact that in addition to being hard working, Tees Valley businesses are extremely entrepreneurial too and the crisis will certainly present opportunities for growth for those who embrace innovation and creativity.
Garry Lofthouse, director, Applied Integration
Our region has faced many challenges over previous years, such as the loss of the steelworks. However, we have always been resilient and have managed to pull through.
We have been fortunate at Applied Integration, as we have been able to maintain a high level of business during the Covid crisis due to the skill sets of our staff. During this time, we have been creating visors using our 3D printing technologies and donating to hospitals, schools, doctors’ surgeries, care homes and many more.
A number of projects and activities have been put on hold during this crisis, but these will need to be resumed once back to normal, giving our region opportunity to grow. We have many projects to look forward to in the future such as the Teesside Airport development and the free port to push more trade.
We are extremely impressed with how businesses in the Tees area have adapted through one of the biggest challenges we have ever faced through our lifetime. If you can overcome this, you can overcome anything.