Region learns lessons from global crisis
Oct 14 2009 By The Journal
By Jamie Martin, managing partner at Ward Hadaway
THE phrase "never let a good crisis go to waste" has been bandied about in political circles in the wake of the tumultuous economic events of the last year or so.
It is a maxim which has certainly been taken to heart by the best of our region's businesses.
While no one wanted to see such a sharp recession and few people predicted it, many companies and firms have not only survived the past year, but have used the experience to sharpen themselves up or to draw breath and reassess their strategies.
As a result, many will emerge from the recession as leaner and better businesses while others will be in better shape and a better frame of mind to kick on once things do start to improve.
Those which do survive the recession will be good, strong businesses with strong products and services but in my view what the past 12 months has highlighted is the need to ensure you are not over-dependant on the domestic market.
As a region, we have a very high level of export activity and remain one of the few areas in the country to be a net exporter of good and services. This will stand us in particularly good stead over the coming months as other economies such as France and Germany are already emerging from recession and therefore represent excellent market opportunities for North East companies.
It can be no coincidence that many of those in this year's Fastest 50 are companies who export their products or expertise and hopefully, with initiatives such as The Journal's Go Global, even more businesses will look to spread the influence of the North East across the world.
In a similar vein, the appearance of a number of manufacturers in this year's list highlights the importance of maintaining our manufacturing base and ensuring it continues to be strong. As a country, we have perhaps been guilty of placing too much reliance on the property sector - something which the current recession has shown up - so a rebalancing of these priorities and a recognition of our debt to manufacturing is welcome.
It would be remiss of me, as managing partner of a large law firm, not to say how difficult the last 18 months have been for the professional services sector.
However, I believe the experience has enabled us to look very closely at the way we run our businesses and to strengthen them by ensuring that we have the right kind of resources doing the right kind of work and that will stand us and our clients in good stead for the future.
Looking ahead, there are clear challenges before us, not just in emerging from recession in good shape, but also in the effect that public spending cuts are likely to have on the region.
We are still more reliant on the public sector than other parts of the country for investment in regeneration as well as jobs and prosperity so the need for the private sector to step up and go for growth is more pressing than ever.
Having said that, there are many reasons to be optimistic on this score, not just amongst the companies in this year's Fastest 50. Outstanding progress has been made in sectors as diverse as electric car manufacturing, renewable energy and nanotechnology. Harnessing and developing the intellectual property from these activities will be key to their success, as my colleague Alex Shiel points out on page four of this supplement.
When you combine invention and energy with the North-East's drive and determination to face challenges head-on, it all bodes well for the future.