A £100million education and enterprise centre in the Highland capital was hailed as a “magnet” for world-wide investment in the region yesterday.
Business and education leaders said the new Inverness Campus offered a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to transform the city’s economy and that of the wider Highlands and islands.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney unveiled a plaque in the shadow of the new Inverness College, the flagship building, to officially declare the site open yesterday.
Leaders say the Inverness Campus – being developed by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) – will support about 1,300 jobs, with another 940 created in the wider Highlands as a result.
HIE will share a building with researchers from the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI).
A host of other organisations are also in line to take up residence on the 215-acre site, which will boast 200 student flats, as well as a health science centre.
Yesterday it was revealed that Scotland’s Rural College has also committed to opening an epidemiology research unit.
It is hoped the campus will not only discourage young people from leaving the area to study, but also lure others back to take up high quality jobs.
Although none of the units have opened, the effects of the massive investment are already being felt, with applications to Inverness College up by 25%.
The college building is due to open its doors to staff and students in the summer.
Mr Swinney admitted that when HIE bosses had first suggested the idea, he had regarded it as a “tall order”.
But Mr Swinney praised the determination of all of the agencies concerned to see the project to fruition.
He said: “This is the end of the beginning. Now it is the beginning of the next chapter of the transformation of the economy of the Highlands and islands.
“This campus may be located in Inverness, but it has the potential to resonate throughout the Highlands and islands.
“It is an exciting day for the community and for Scotland.”
He said he had also instructed Scottish Development International to market the campus as a business location for global firms.
Bosses at HIE said they were delighted to see the site coming to life.
Alex Paterson, HIE chief executive, described it as “a great asset for the region and an asset for Scotland”.
He added: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to create something unique for the region.
“It is a long-term project which will have an increasing impact over many years. For instance, the educational opportunities and new jobs at the campus will encourage young people to stay in, or relocate to, the area, while the links between education, industry and academia will boost local businesses and make the campus an attractive inward investment location.”
Lorne Crerar, chairman of HIE, said: “I think there will be important economic benefits created by the campus, not just for Inverness but for the Highlands and islands as a whole.
“It is a unique opportunity and I believe that the site could be developed into Scotland’s most attractive business location.”
Work was continuing on the £50million Inverness College yesterday.
More than 6,000 students from the two existing campuses at Longman and Midmills will eventually relocate to the site.
Principal and chief executive Diane Rawlinson said it was “a prize” for the Highlands.
Fergus Ewing MSP said: “This campus will provide an opportunity that we have never had before to continue to attract life science and renewable companies.”
He added: “This is much more than just a building for UHI and the college.
“It will act as a magnet for young people from countries throughout the world.”