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19 December, 2007 - 12:44 By Tony Quested

Foreign food & drink firms to give region a taste of success

Foreign-owned companies in the food & drink sector are promising to give the East of England economy a massive boost in 2008 – with a potentially huge payback for local infrastructure and commercial property.

For the first time in the 10 years that inward investment powerhouse, East of England International, has been in existence there are as many overseas food & drink businesses as IT companies seriously considering setting up operations in the region.

Potential relocations from the segment are outstripping biotech inquiries six to four, Business Weekly understands. If a healthy percentage of these projects translates into real-life relocations, the economic profile of the region will reflect a healthy breadth. Logistics businesses have injected billions into new or upgraded warehouse and distribution facilities in the  East of England in recent months and the region is picking up a genuinely global reputation in the food & drink space. I understand that among the numerous international inquiries that EEI has fielded in recent months, a hotlist of 23 projects has been assimilated which hold genuine promise of multi-million pound relocations. Eight of these projects involve companies from the United States, maintaining America as the number one source of new businesses for the region. But there has been an upsurge in firm inquiries from Europe. Among the projects with a real chance of progress are several that involve businesses in countries such as Germany, France, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland. Having just attracted the first Chinese TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) company to a new laboratory headquarters at Babraham, EEI has two more Chinese business ventures on the hook as well as one from Japan. EEI is reportedly just as pleased with the spread of industries covered by the inquiries in a region previously dominated by the IT sector. Of the 23 projects identified, six are from food & drink and six from IT. There are four in the biotech sector. Others encompass aerospace and advanced engineering, financial services, the utilities, travel and power. The pressure is now on UK developers to draw on some pretty hefty war chests and build more speculative space – especially in the office and warehouse-distribution arenas. R & D space is being well catered for in expansion projects at Babraham, Granta Park, Chesterford Research Park and Cambridge Science Park. If companies come knocking and cannot find suitable premises, they will take their business elsewhere. And competition from other UK regions for these companies is red hot. There are many other reasons for the region to be cheerful as it contemplates a new year. BAA, the owner of Stansted Airport, is set to submit an official planning application for a second runway early in 2008 – we predict February at the latest – and sources tell Business Weekly a new runway at Stansted will be in operation ahead of a new one at Heathrow, despite off-the-mark speculation in the national media.

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