Dr Stan Higgins, Chief Executive and Director, NEPIC
Dr Stan Higgins has become the voice of the chemical industry in the North East. The chief executive of industry body Nepic tells Peter McCusker of his rise to the top.
NEPIC started with around 180 members. Higgins was aware of the informal networks that existed between the companies which used to be part of chemical giant ICI, but he was keen to develop these networks across the region’s process industries.
“My goal was to build a voice for the industry. I wanted to bring everyone together.”
NEPIC says its brief is to dissuade those in the industry from accepting the status quo and show that, by working together, individual companies can have real influence on the state of the sector.
If success can be gauged by the increase in membership then NEPIC has performed admirably, having increased numbers to 560 today.
Higgins is an amiable and engaging character – tactile and demonstrative. This was never more clearly demonstrated during our interview than when we talked about the future of the chemical industry on Teesside.
At one point last year, many commentators were airing doubts over its future. Three companies based on the Wilton site near Redcar closed last year. Bad news at Invista was quickly followed by more from Dow. Dow’s closure meant the end of ethylene oxide (EO) production, which led to the demise of the Croda plant which relied on EO for its end products.
Higgins bangs his fist on the table and points his finger at the mention of the closures and the loss of hundreds of jobs on Teesside.
“These closures will have no major effect. Any suggestions otherwise are complete rubbish. Some of the utility companies have been affected such as BOC and Sembcorp and this has led to some reshuffling.
“But the biggest problem is how others perceive the situation. People who talk us down are more dangerous than anything else. We are having to build companies’ confidence because of the way people have talked us down.” He continues, barely catching breath: “I am out there telling people what they have heard has happened, has not happened.
“I am having big battles with global companies that are looking to invest, telling them that this is the place to invest.
“Deciding to invest in a location is all about having the confidence to do that. Confidence is about assessing the risk and my message is that there is no risk in the North East. The only two companies to disappear are Dow and Croda.”
Higgins points out that there is £2.5bn of investment earmarked for the region and highlights the companies who have invested in the last 12 months.
These include the £250m Sabic polymer plant and the Ensus biofuel plant which have opened on Teesside, and the announcement of a further £50m of investment at the INEOS Bio project.
In fact, Higgins believes the region is well placed for further investment and is developing a solid reputation as hub for some of the new renewable and recycling industries.
Through NEPIC, the region’s process industry companies are working to promote the attractiveness of this sector as a career opportunity, saying the sector will need a further 10,000 staff by 2020.
By 2020, Higgins expects to have retired and may well be spending his time on the golf course or watching football – his two favourite leisure pursuits. But he believes the process industry will continue to be a mainstay of the North East economy for many years to come.