Celia Hodson, Chief Executive, Choose Suffolk
Choose Suffolk is the countywide public and private partnership, charged with enhancing and sustaining prosperity in Suffolk. The agency delivers a wide range of services, support and information to the county’s business community, alongside promoting Suffolk as a premier destination in the UK for business, investment and tourism with various multi-platform marketing campaigns.
The Agency’s commercial research services and in-depth analysis activities provide the public and private sectors with key statistics about the county, housed in the Suffolk Observatory website and augmented by the delivery of surveys, focus groups and demographic analysis.
1. How vibrant is the Suffolk economy currently?Suffolk has a £110 billion economy and is home to businesses operating within an impressive range of sectors. The county is positioning itself as a major player in renewable energies, led by OrbisEnergy in Lowestoft, the flagship for businesses with ambitions to reap the economic benefits of offshore wind, wave and tidal technologies. The county can also boast vast experience in the nuclear, oil and gas sectors. As the home of BT’s research facility at Adastral Park and ICT cluster in Martlesham, Suffolk is one of the region’s leading hubs for IT and Communications. Nearby Felixstowe is the site of the UK’s largest container port, handling over three millions containers a year and distributing worldwide. Tourism is another key sector and the diversity of its coast and countryside, many attractions and high-quality hotels and restaurants make Suffolk a popular destination for short break and day visitors. Similarly, the county’s food and drink sector includes some national names, alongside countless smaller producers who all add to the Suffolk’s unique offering. In Newmarket, the international home of horseracing, the area combines tourism with burgeoning biotech activities in the equine and animal health industries. It’s a broad sector base that has helped Suffolk weather the worst of the recession and makes it ideally placed to benefit from improvements to the economy. 2. What are the industries in which it has major strengths?Again, Suffolk is home to some leading industries with a national or international profile. These range from British Telecom, which continues to be a lead player in the ICT and Communications sector; port and logistics, represented by the Port of Felixstowe; and energy, including renewables, nuclear, oil and gas. The county also has a robust tourism sector, worth £1.63 billion to its economy and employing 30,000 people in over 2,000 businesses, while our food and drink industries can boast some national brands on its roll-call, including the likes of Adnams, Greene King and Percy Dalton’s. 3. How has the county adapted from the days when textiles and agriculture reigned to these hi-tech times?Suffolk is developing across a number of sectors that stand as testimony to the county’s spirit of entrepreneurialism and innovation. While agriculture still remains of high importance to its economy, Suffolk is seizing the opportunities in hi-tech areas, such as IT and Communications, R & D, biosciences and energy. The county’s east coast, for example, is building on its existing infrastructure and skills in marine science and advanced engineering, initially developed by the North Sea oil and gas industry, to service the needs of power generators in the low carbon economy. The area’s PowerPark development will seek to attract offshore wind operations and maintenance companies, along with offshore marine research and development facilities. With more than £10 billion expected to be invested in offshore renewable energy over the next 10 years around the East of England’s coastline, Suffolk is part of an area that is leading the charge towards a new age of low carbon, sustainable economic growth and regeneration.
4. How important for the county’s development is the University of Suffolk?The development of the University Campus Suffolk clearly demonstrates that Suffolk is looking to the future and embracing the need to build and enhance the county’s skills base. Indeed, UCS is just one example of a county that is investing in education and training to ensure that it has the necessary skills to allow it innovate, create and prosper. In the near future, UCS is expected to have some 5,000 full-time students passing through its doors, attracting new talent and skills to the county. It is also important to encourage collaboration between UCS and our other further education and research institutions with the business and public sectors to put in place relationships that can deliver exciting results. 5. How are the plans for the so-called ‘tech town’ at Adastral Park developing under Phil Dance’s tutelage?The Innovation Martlesham project, charged with initiating the transformation of Adastral Park in Martlesham, near Ipswich, is on track. Innovation Martlesham has brought 12 new companies on site since 2008 and, last October, in conjunction with NVP, opened the Kastra Incubator to provide support to early stage companies. Kastra now hosts three incubands: Disect Systems, OxEms and Halogence. Since late-2008, Innovation Martlesham has been running quarterly networking events for third-party companies at Adastral Park, and these events attract a broad audience, for example, amongst third-party ICT companies in the Ipswich area and BT Innovate. During 2010, these events will be co-hosted by Innovation Martlesham, Suffolk Chamber of Commerce and Ip-City Network. Martlesham Innovation Centre Ltd was formed in February this year and work is now underway to select a contractor to build an innovation hub, which is due to open in late-spring 2011. 6. How successfully is Suffolk engaging with companies and investors on the international stage?For the last 10 years, Choose Suffolk’s Inward Investment Team has provided a service across the county on behalf of the Suffolk local authorities. The team has developed the service continually and now provides assistance to up to 80 companies a month (compared to 100 a year in 2001). In addition we receive up to 1600 unique visitors to the Inward Investment site every month. We manage a commercial property database of over 800 commercial land and premises across the county with over 130 agents uploading their properties onto the database. We also work closely with key sectors such as Port & Logistics and ICT, including Innovation Martlesham, to provide early-stage intervention with companies by arranging sector-lead presentations and visits.
7. Can you give any examples of major inward investments for the county?The county supports over 25,000 businesses, providing a vast range of job opportunities for our local population and is a major economic generator in the East of England. The county is home to a wide array of internationally-renowned companies that have chosen to set up their operations in Suffolk, including Genzyme and Nestor UK Ltd, world-class biopharmaceutical manufacturers; Indo European Foods, wholesalers and distributors of Indian foods; Pix Europe Ltd, makers of power and fluid transmissions solutions; and leading global communications solutions provider, Huawei.8. To what extent has the county been able to leverage the globally renowned legacy of BT, the emergence of NVP from Brightstar and the world class technology that continues to emanate from Adastral Park?BT’s reputation and place as the ‘anchor’ tenant at Adastral Park is still the main attraction at Adastral Park - just take a look at the main board at the site’s entrance to see such impressive names of Cisco, Juniper, Siemens, ZTE and Fujitsu, alongside many others. NVP also continues to play a strong role at the site, including its local influence on the likes of the Kastra Incubator for early-stage companies. 9. To what extent does Suffolk engage with neighbouring clusters in, say Cambridgeshire and Essex?Cluster support is achieved through our working with the Eastern Region Biotech Initiative (ERBI), the regional sector lead for the life sciences and healthcare sector who, although very much Cambridge-based, has a growing membership outside the traditional boundaries. ERBI acts as a share provision resource to develop clusters and supply chain integration across the region. Similarly, the county is playing an innovative role in the UK’s low carbon future with a concentration of next generation energy suppliers and associated industries in Lowestoft and, further down the coast, at Sizewell. We engage with such organisations as 1st East and EEEGR to promote the county as a leading hub in both the emerging offshore wind sector and its established position in the nuclear power sector.10. Looking long-term, what would be on your wish list for improving infrastructure or accessibility issues in the county?Overall, Suffolk has a great communications network, with the A12 linking the county to the capital in a little over an hour from Ipswich. The South East and the Midland are also within easy reach via the A12 and A14. We’re also well served by Stansted and Norwich airports, while the Port of Felixstowe connects us to the industrial heartlands of Northern Europe. As an organisation, we are keen to see increased investment in the county’s rail network, within such areas as track, rolling stock and stations, to ensure a punctual, high-speed service on new inter-city standard rolling stock that meets anticipated demand. As such, we are also working collaboratively with Shaping Norfolk’s Future on campaign and cross-border lobbying issues such as ‘Norfolk in Ninety’, alongside calling for improved high-speed broadband in the region.