Economic development agency, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), has reported a successful year of investment and job creation in the region for 2014/15 as the 50th anniversary of its predecessor approaches.
More than a thousand jobs are expected to be created or retained in the region, as a result of HIE’s investments last year.
A summary of the organisation’s year-end figures shows turnover among supported businesses and social enterprises is anticipated to increase by £122 million as a result of HIE’s support. International activity secured anticipated inward investment of £126 million for the region, creating 455 jobs and safeguarding a further 148.
There was major progress in specific sectors, such as life sciences, tourism, food and drink, energy and creative industries. This included the setting up of Wave Energy Scotland, major investment in Inverness Campus, the opening of the European Marine Science Park in Argyll and the Alexander Graham Bell Centre in Moray.
HIE also invested £6 million in 80 tourism projects and £3.4m in 61 food and drink businesses and funded goNORTH (now XpoNorth), Scotland’s leading creative industries festival, in which 1300 people took part.
Investments made in social enterprises are anticipated to increase turnover in the social economy by £7 million; £3.6 million of which will be generated by community-owned assets. HIE’s administration of the Scottish Land Fund (SLF) continued to support community asset acquisition across Scotland. In the past year a further 17,833 acres of land came into community ownership through 14 acquisitions with £4.67 million SLF support.
The first year of fibre broadband roll-out has provided access to next generation broadband to more than 50,000 premises. HIE is also delivering Community Broadband Scotland (CBS) across the country to reach premises unlikely to be reached by the next generation broadband project.
HIE chairman, Professor Lorne Crerar, said: “We are putting a lot of emphasis on account management and relationships with businesses that have growth potential and ambition. Each year we set challenging goals that deliver measurable benefits for those clients, and that enable the region to contribute to Scotland’s economic growth.
“At the same time, our commitment to community development, much of which is also underpinned by account management, has achieved excellent results. Community ownership of land and assets continues to grow, helping to improve the resilience of some of our most fragile areas. There is similar growth among many social enterprises, which helps tackle inequality, create jobs, develop skills and boost the economy.”
This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of HIE’s predecessor, the Highlands and Islands Development Board (HIDB).
What began as a responsibility to solve economic and social problems in 1965 has seen the region gain widespread recognition for ambitious and innovative businesses and resilient dynamic communities supported by developing infrastructure, transport links, services and increasing access to digital technology.
Life sciences, creative industries and renewable energy, among others, have emerged as growth sectors with huge potential to complement long standing sectors such as tourism and food and drink.
Against this backdrop, HIE published its operating plan for 2015-18 in March. Entitled 'Building our Future', this sets out plans for how the organisation will invest its annual budget of £97.7 million over the next three years. It includes increased efforts to support innovation, investment, internationalisation and inclusive growth, in line with Scotland’s Economic Strategy.
Professor Crerar said: “The Highlands and Islands can make a major contribution to the delivery of Scotland's Economic Strategy. It is a region of entrepreneurship, innovation and exporting as well as leading the way in community ownership of land and assets.
“We need to continue investing in facilities such as digital technology, development sites and premises. We also need to encourage the use of cultural assets such as Gaelic and landscapes to promote the Highlands and Islands as a prime location for business, for university education and for tourism, and as a place of choice in which to live, work study and invest.”
Some of the key annual targets in HIE’s new plan include increasing turnover of supported businesses by between £80 million and £100 million and supporting the creation or retention of 700 to 900 full time equivalent jobs. There will be a focus on innovation and exporting and a drive to increase turnover of the region’s social economy by £3m - £4.5m each year.