Gary McEwan is chief executive of Elevator
As our treasured north-east economy begins to stabilise, we must not forget how damaging the oil price drop was and how our over-reliance on the industry nearly brought us to our knees.
We have been privileged to have had such a historically vibrant industry based here. It has brought us success, but sustainable prosperity cannot be relied on in an economy overly dominated by a single industry.
Our future prosperity rests with a diversified economy driven by entrepreneurs, but they need support. Highly successful regional economies are not forging ahead simply because they understand AI, robotics, blockchain or genetics more than we do, but they do understand that true sustainable economic development comes as much from channelling and supporting the creativity of entrepreneurs as it does from any mainstream infrastructure strategy. We must create an environment and ecosystem that would sustain a potential ‘Skyscanner’ of the north-east when one emerges.
Having just visited New England and Ontario, I witnessed first-hand how hugely vibrant and successful regional economies are building environments where entrepreneurial talent can flourish. Enlightened governments, at all levels, recognise that economic growth is driven by entrepreneurs and therefore collaborate with the private and education sectors to build infrastructure, connectivity and drive social change to create the platform on which entrepreneurs can deliver.
Our region did not become successful by simply catching more fish, making more paper or quarrying more granite. Our heritage was based on broadening our horizons and embracing every opportunity. It’s arguably something we’ve lost sight of, but it’s exactly what we see as a hallmark of success across the Pond as they explore, diversify and build communities around sectors and then properly resource, at governmental level, the needs of this community.
Technology and innovation are the keys to our future prosperity but without a supportive entrepreneurial culture to drive this we will be wasting our time. If we believe, as I do, that we have great strength in the north-east in uncovering the best ideas, creative innovations and technological advancements, it will be a serious mistake to assume that this is enough. Even the best technologies don’t bring sustained prosperity by simply ‘turning up’. They must be carefully curated, nurtured and skilfully steered by great entrepreneurs. It is their ability to convert these opportunities into business success that is at the very core of success in a regional economy.
Elevator’s ‘Centre of Entrepreneurship’ in Bridge of Don was set up to drive structural change in both the absolute numbers and diversity of businesses starting in our region and additionally, drive more growth within these businesses. Our Business Gateway start-up programme in the city and shire recorded 14% of all of Scotland’s BG start-ups despite having only 7% of the population. This is great indication that our underlying culture of entrepreneurship is healthy.
Since it opened in 2014, we have seen the emergence of the Oil & Gas Technology Centre and Opportunity North East to complement the largest and most vibrant chamber of commerce in the country. This ecosystem development is extremely encouraging for the future of our region as it demonstrates ambition.
Our roads infrastructure is changing, we have significant construction ongoing, we have been promised better connectivity and all of this brings momentum but we need change to accelerate, we need government to join in the mission to collaborate with a shared vision to pivot the city and shire ready for a new future, one that generates a new prosperity driven by a robust and diverse economy that is bound to emerge in this period of change. If we get this right, my prediction is that the strong underlying entrepreneurial spirit of this region will bring about a more reliable economy.