Economic development agency, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), has reported a successful year of investment and job creation in the region for 2015/16 – its 50th anniversary year.
Year-end figures compiled by HIE show an estimated 855 jobs are expected to be created or retained in the region, as a result of HIE’s investments last year, 87 of these in Caithness and Sutherland, 17 of which are in fragile areas.
Turnover across the HIE area among supported businesses and social enterprises is anticipated to increase by £140 million over three years and international sales by £90 million. In Caithness and Sutherland turnover will increase by £8.3million and as part of Scotland’s Economic Strategy priority of internationalisation, these investments anticipate international sales growth of £3.58million.
Projects supported include the establishment of a new food business harvesting and processing seaweed in Wick and a multi-million pound hotel expansion at the Links House in Dornoch which attracted a £600,000 funding package.
HIE’s focus on attracting investment from other parts of the UK led Aberdeen-based Enerquip to invest in a fabrication facility at Lybster. This will create six high quality, full time jobs in a fragile area within three years.
The local engineering sector in Caithness and Sutherland was encouraged to diversify away from a dependence on Dounreay and drive towards better value solutions that exploit the latest conditions in the oil and gas sector. Thurso based JGC Engineering and Technical Services Ltd invested in equipment with HIE assistance to help increase its business in the renewable energy market.
Innovation continued to be a key driver of the Caithness and Sutherland economy and salmon farming company Loch Duart Ltd from Scourie was supported to work with academia towards developing a sustainable packaging solution.
HIE worked collaboratively with others including the UK Space Agency to investigate the feasibility of a vertical launch site, potentially to be sited near Tongue. Meanwhile, the Kylesku Hotel on Sutherland’s west coast invested in workforce development with HIE’s help, creating more secure jobs for local people.
During 2015/16 HIE worked with 19 community enterprises in Caithness and Sutherland. The highlight was support towards a youth and community centre in the fragile Bonar Bridge area. Scourie Community Development Company also secured investment through the HIE-managed Scottish Land Fund to purchase 1.76 hectares to build an exhibition centre and community hub.
Elsewhere, digital connectivity was further improved in many areas of the Highlands and Islands through the HIE-led Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband project. Thousands of homes and businesses in Wick, Thurso, Dornoch and Golspie can now already request access to faster broadband. Other parts of Caithness and Sutherland are scheduled for activation by the end of 2016.
Commenting on the region’s progress, HIE chairman Professor Lorne Crerar, said: “The current challenges facing industries, businesses and commercial growth worldwide are well documented. The progress we have seen in the Highlands and Islands over the past 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.”
Roy Kirk, HIE’s area manager for Caithness and Sutherland, added: “Effective engagement with a wide range of businesses, communities and social enterprises has typified another successful year for HIE in our area.
“During the past 12 months communities developed inspiring solutions to social challenges; businesses continued to prove their adaptability to changing market conditions; and social enterprises demonstrated their entrepreneurial skills.
“We will continue to forge effective partnerships with stakeholders to ensure growth aspirations are realised, fragile areas are prioritised and growth sectors deliver their potential. Maintaining an active role in the Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership will continue to play an important part in building confidence in the community and local economy.”
Details of HIE’s progress last year will be published in the organisation’s annual report later in the year.