A showcase year for the North-East
Yet again this year, the list of the region's fastest growing private companies provides a great barometer for the region's economy.
It also provides a showcase for some of the region's best businesses and entrepreneurs from a range of sectors including both new and long-established businesses.
As ever, tremendous credit must go to all of the companies in the list. They each contribute an enormous amount to the region's economy, providing jobs, wealth and opportunities.
The winners this year come from across the region with operations running in Teesside, County Durham and Tyne and Wear.
Recent economic indicators demonstrate that the North-East continues to perform well but that it lags behind on a number of measures and this was recently highlighted by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) report on Newcastle.
The challenges facing the region in relation to worklessness, educational attainment and generating high value and sustainable jobs are well recognised.
A number of very positive things have happened recently, however, which should assist in the growth of businesses across the region.
For instance, the success of the South Tyneside LEGI (Local Enterprise Growth Initiative) bid, the enhanced investor readiness programme funded by One NorthEast and the establishment of the single regional Business Link organisation should each help to enhance the environment in which businesses should flourish.
The region, with a small number of PLCs, is dependent upon the large number of private companies, such as those listed in the Fastest 50, for a significant part of its wealth.
The encouragement of new entrepreneurs is, therefore, crucial to the continuing development of the region's economy. The Entrepreneurs Forum and organisations such as the Alchemists and the Bridge Club continue to provide a lead in this regard, but the challenge to budding entrepreneurs is to prove themselves as capable businessmen and women by actually taking on and developing businesses. Turning to the list of companies in this year's Fastest 50, the continuing strength of the property sector has helped the performance of a number of companies and the sector is well represented.
On the other hand, while much of heavy industry has now ceased to operate in the region (with a small number of significant exceptions) the list highlights a number of high quality industrial companies such as Hydratight, MKW, Metal Spinners and Miller UK, each of which face enormous challenges in competing in a truly global market, marrying high levels of expertise with industrial processes. In the light of recent scares over energy prices, it was also interesting to see a number of companies in the energy and utilities sector in the list this year and indeed one of the category winners PX manages energy facilities. With regional and national energy policy the subject of ongoing debate, there are clearly opportunities in this sector.
It has been stated in the current draft and previous regional economic strategies that the region is seeking to encourage the creation of knowledge-based businesses and higher value jobs associated with those businesses.
The universities have a very important part to play in this; they are able to help to sustain businesses through providing research and graduates.
The challenge to them is to create businesses which feature in our list in the coming years.
The winner of the large business category, Spartan UK could certainly be classed as a knowledge-based business. It is an international organisation specialising in the supply of carbon steel plates to customer specification on short timescales. It is operating in a highly competitive global market and securing well deserved success.
The service and leisure sector remains strong in the region and it is from this sector that our overall winner comes this year.
Duncan Bannatyne has previously featured as a winner of the Fastest 50, through his chain of fitness centres and also a chain of nurseries.
Recently, his fitness business acquired a significant number of new centres in a deal valued at just under £100m. This year, however, he tops the list through his Bannatyne Hotels business, which includes hotels, bars and restaurants.
Duncan is well known through his appearances on TVs Dragons' Den and can truly be described as a serial entrepreneur. His continued success across a range of ventures sets him apart as one of the region's strongest and best known entrepreneurs. Someone who has certainly demonstrated his ability to identify opportunities and create businesses from them, with an enviable track record of success.
I hope that others, whether in this year's list or not, will emulate Duncan in the coming years and like him, achieve success for themselves and bring wealth and jobs to the region.
This year's list provides evidence that there are strong businesses out there which have the ability to continue to grow and develop to the benefit of their owners, their employees and the region.
As ever, therefore, we celebrate the achievements of not only the three categories and the overall winner but also the other businesses which have won a place in this annual league table.