When economic catastrophe strikes, it can be hard to think much beyond survival mode.
That’s been especially true of the last year, where businesses and workers haven’t just had to cling on – many of them have had to radically change what they do and how they do it.
But it’s through such adversity that some of the very best businesses are born, and with the right action now, the north of Scotland could find itself at the forefront of a national recovery.
We need to unite the cleverest people, the hardest workers and those who hold the key to funding and decision-making.
Join together to make it happen
That means bringing together – as a matter of urgency – the University of the Highlands and Islands along with universities in Aberdeen and excellent colleges in the area as well as local authorities, economic development agencies and thought leaders in the industry to work out where we’re going next.
Ideas with potential have to be married up to those with the resources to make it happen.
We have a small window of opportunity here to harness the imagination and determination that’s driven people to survive over the last year and turn that into a mass scaling-up operation.”
We have a small window of opportunity here to harness the imagination and determination that’s driven people to survive over the last year and turn that into a mass scaling-up operation.
In every town and village there are people who have been made redundant and forced to go it alone, sometimes decades into their careers, and small businesses who’ve had to turn their practices upsidedown to get by.
These accidental entrepreneurs will have been too busy doing their job all these years to think about pitching for investment.
And remember, all over the north of Scotland there are wealthy investors who like to keep their money local, and take immense satisfaction in watching innovative people in their area triumph.
But this can’t happen without a co-ordinated drive involving all parties.
Business schools and coaching facilities at the forefront
In many ways, we’re in a far better place to do this up here than other parts of the country. The unique character of the area and relative size difference enables more flexibility – we can turn things round and get things moving faster than more densely populated settlements in the UK.
Good business schools and rapid coaching facilities are the key.
We should be looking at summer schools for new businesses who haven’t had time to think about the next steps or those that need to pivot to survive or exploit new opportunities.
Perhaps local councils could set up Dragon’s Den-style events where the best ideas are rewarded with public funding or investment from local figureheads.
The government can’t do this alone, which is why our academic experts and experienced businessmen and women need to step forward too.
Lessons have been learned too which could shape a remarkable future.”
Make no mistake – while this has been a turgid year for so many, lessons have been learned too which could shape a remarkable future.
Through these ashes, fantastic ideas and promising experiments are emerging.
Small operations which used to sell out of a high street store are now exploring global markets through online platforms.
People who now have more time working from home are embarking on new hobbies and habits laid on by local firms.
The foundations are there – now we need to see a collective effort to supercharge the north of Scotland’s economy, showing the rest of the UK how it’s done in the process.
Finlay Kerr is managing director of business development firm Frejz