News that the UK’s first spaceport is to be created in Sutherland attracted national media attention in July. The hugely ambitious project, backed by Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the UK Space Agency, will establish a launch site for small satellites on the Melness crofting estate, near Tongue.
And it isn’t just the relatively remote location that made the Highlands and Islands a natural choice. The region is building an enviable reputation for the scale and diversity of its growing technology and advanced engineering sector.
Examples in recent years include SSE’s £2.6bn Beatrice Offshore Windfarm, which is already bearing fruit and providing benefits for supply chain companies around the region and further afield.
Plans by Liberty Group in Lochaber to create an alloy wheel manufacturing facility after purchasing the smelter in Fort Willian, represents a £450m investment that is expected to create hundreds of jobs.
In Moray, Boeing is investing £100m in Lossiemouth to support the new Poseidon P8 Maritime Patrol aircraft. Macallan distillery, built and fitted out by local firms Robertson Construction and Forsyths, has benefited from a £140m investment by owners, Edrington Group. And in April this year, the £95m expansion of the Norbord mill near Inverness was unveiled by the First Minister.
Smaller scale examples include Organlike in Inverness. With HIE support, the firm is developing the use of advanced 3-D printing technology to produce replica organs for medical training. And the new Fit House, developed by Invergordon-based Carbon Dynamics and Albyn Housing in Inverness, will give greater independence to people with health and mobility needs.
These and other investments, should be viewed in the context of broader regional developments. Upgraded ports in locations including Wick, Nigg and Dales Voe in Shetland, are underpinning growing markets in renewable energy and oil and gas decommissioning. And investment in the thriving life sciences sector includes the Outer Hebrides, where facilities for seaweed processing for pharmaceuticals have been upgraded and chemicals giant BASF demonstrated its commitment to Callanish by creating an impressive new warehouse.
These advancements are backed up by an expanding universities presence and world leading research carried out by the likes of the Scottish Association of Marine Science (SAMS) in Oban and the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney.
Holistically, all of this drives up productivity, not just in the Highlands and Islands, but in Scotland. The increases in exporting linked to these investments and activities, brings money into the country and the region, and strengthens local economies.
The technology and engineering jobs created and supported are generally highly skilled and well paid. This is important in attracting new talent and enabling people, notably young graduates, to remain in the region and pursue rewarding careers. This in turn improves the resilience of rural communities and economies.
That is why we have defined technology and advanced engineering as a priority sector for the region and one that we should support strategically. It is of course a gradual process, moving forward on many fronts and with numerous challenges and opportunities along the way. We very much look forward to continuing to work with partners and industries in meeting those challenges and capitalising on those opportunities.