Turnover among supported businesses and social enterprises is forecast to increase by £101m over three years and international sales by £40m. The region’s social economy turnover is forecast to increase by almost £5.1m, £1.6m of this by community-owned assets.
The Digital Highlands and Islands next generation broadband project, led by HIE, met its contract targets. More than 230,000 homes across 240 towns and villages, which equates to 85% of the region’s premises, now have access to the fibre-based network. Targets in each local authority area have been met or passed.
HIE’s innovation service supported 323 businesses. Thirty small businesses received grants totalling £271,959, which leveraged £550,557 of private sector funding. These activities are forecast to increase turnover by £2.3m and employment by 78 FTEs. Businesses accessed advice, small business grants, clinics and group workshops.
The agency also launched the £16m Northern Innovation Hub (NIH). This is a broad programme of innovation support life sciences, tourism, food and drink and creative industries, as well as a strand focussing on young people and technology. The NIH is being funded with £11m from the Inverness and Highland City-Region Deal, £3m from ERDF and £2m from HIE. Over seven years it is expected to reach 1,600 businesses across the Highland Council area.
More than 260 new, existing and potential exporters received support to build their ambition, awareness and capacity to trade internationally. Upwards of 230 people from 193 businesses took part in 25 training and awareness events, including a Highlands and Islands awareness roadshow in partnership with Inverness Chamber of Commerce.
The Outer Hebrides, Lochaber, Skye and Wester Ross, Inner Moray Firth and Moray all benefited from a total of six inward investment projects.
HIE’s ‘Go Global’ programme provided 55 grants totalling £197,174 to support 46 companies to exhibit at tradeshows, attend trade missions, undertake market visits or develop products for international markets. The funding is expected to generate international sales of £9.9m in markets in the EU, US and Asia Pacific.
HIE’s support helped lever in £5.5m from the Big Lottery and Scottish Government’s Regeneration Capital Fund to help community development projects. A total of £445,000 was committed to help rural communities take part in creative activities and skills development programmes. This included support for the Fèisean nan Gaidheal’s Traditional Youth Arts programme and Regional Screen Scotland’s Community Cinema Development programme.
Several major infrastructure projects progressed with HIE investment. In Argyll, a £2.8m extension and alteration of a factory leased to CS Wind at Machrihanish, Kintyre, will increase the company’s competitiveness when bidding for offshore wind contracts. There was further investment in the European Marine Science Park (EMSP) at Dunstaffnage near Oban. The fit-out of two office/labs at the Park’s Malin House, was completed and another is due for completion in 2018.
In the Western Isles, the expansion of the HIE-owned pharmaceutical plant at Breasclete, Isle of Lewis, was completed. This is enabling occupier, BASF Pharma, to continue its growth and expand its current workforce of 80 skilled jobs. HIE is also developing business units in partnership with Highlands and Islands Airports Limited at Benbecula Airport.
A partnership of HIE and Orkney Islands Council has awarded a contract to a local firm to develop the Orkney Research and Innovation Campus in Stromness. Construction is currently under way and scheduled for completion in November 2019.
There was further progress with Inverness Campus. With the £2.2m life sciences building, Aurora House, nearly full, construction began of a second larger building. HIE also received consent to build a second bridge linking Inverness Campus and Inverness Retail Park. This will provide a significant improvement to transport links serving the Campus and wider city.
Investment by HIE subsidiary Wave Energy Scotland reached £28m in contracts to 62 projects, involving 171 organisations across industry and academia from 11 countries. Its innovative approach to technology development continues to attract global interest.
Chair of HIE, Professor Lorne Crerar, said:
“The current challenges and uncertainties facing industries, businesses and commercial growth here and elsewhere are well documented. The progress we have seen in the Highlands and Islands during last financial year, in the context of those challenges, is testament to the superb levels of ambition, entrepreneurship and innovation that thrives in businesses, social enterprises and communities across our region.
“HIE’s role is to foster those qualities and invest in initiatives that stimulate and enable growth. I am delighted we have been able to make such good progress and look forward to working with partners and clients to continue to grow the region’s economy in the years ahead.
“A key focus for us going forward is to inform and deliver the collaborative actions agreed by the new Enterprise and Skills Strategic Board to improve how agencies work together. We will also build on the work commenced by the National Council of Rural Advisers on developing the rural economy.”