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How fundamental strengths are driving South Humber’s economic resurgence – with a focus on new, high-growth industry sectors

4:18 pm, Tuesday, 31st March 2020 - 4 years ago

In the past, North East Lincolnshire’s economic fortunes have fluctuated. But now, the area’s core competencies are attracting a new wave of investing, leading-edge technology businesses.

Like many of the UK’s centres of industry, North East Lincolnshire, which includes the towns of Grimsby and Immingham, has experienced its share of difficult times. In the late 20th Century, as Britain’s manufacturing output declined and labour-intensive sectors like fishing contracted, the area’s ports-focused economy inevitably suffered. More recently, negative stories in the national media became all too familiar, typically written by observers based in places that had been luckier, purely by accident of geography.

Restrained economic potential

And yet, even during challenging times, the area retained economic potential that might have been restrained but never disappeared. Geography, as always, was at the heart of it. The ports still faced the North Sea, northern Europe and the world beyond, while providing access to markets across Great Britain from a favourable north-south central location. Industries that had developed in the area to benefit from that connectivity, including offshore oil and gas, process manufacturing and food processing, continued to train and employ skilled workers, with a strong work ethic rooted in tough sectors like fishing. And those industrial sectors continued to support a wider economic ecosystem, of service businesses and expertise in areas like plant maintenance, offshore health and safety, logistics and food standards.

So, in the latter half of the last century, economic change caused a decline in North East Lincolnshire’s fortunes. But now, in the 21st, businesses leading a new era of technological change are harnessing the area’s fundamental strengths, to deliver an impressive economic resurgence.

A resurgent industrial economy

The change in North East Lincolnshire’s fortunes is perhaps most visible in the Offshore Renewables sector. The UK has emerged as a world leader in offshore wind energy, with more installed capacity than any other country. This time the accident of geography has worked in Grimsby’s favour, with the port being optimally located for access to the North Sea’s vast wind energy zones. And investors in this high-growth sector are, of course, benefiting from the area’s wider capabilities, including a skilled industrial, offshore and maritime workforce, and a deep-water port – Immingham – that provides direct links to northern Europe’s major offshore renewables hubs.

The results speak for themselves. The Port of Grimsby is now established as the leading Operations and Maintenance (O&M) centre for the industry, with Ørsted recently investing £10 million in their new East Coast Hub. To quote the company’s UK Managing Director:
“The Humber region is developing into what I would say is the world’s first offshore wind cluster.”
If your views on Grimsby and the Humber were formed more than five years ago, take a moment to think about that.

Leading the transition to a more sustainable economy

The growth of Offshore Renewable Energy is, of course, part of a wider project to reduce carbon emissions and deliver more sustainable economic growth. And that drive for sustainability, combined with North East Lincolnshire’s industrial, logistics and workforce strengths, explains another theme in the area’s current portfolio of investment projects – industrial facilities producing energy, fuel and other goods from waste and recycled products, including unsorted municipal waste. As with the Offshore Renewables sector, these investments are high capital expenditure, large scale, and creators of technically skilled employment. Recently announced projects include Altalto (waste to sustainable aviation fuel), Great Coates Energy Ltd and EPUKi (both waste to energy).

Once again, the area’s transport connectivity has been key. Many of these operations utilise Refuse Derive Fuel, or RDF, which has been exported via the Port of Immingham, in large quantities for decades, for processing on continental Europe. This ready supply of feedstock has further enhanced the area’s robust business case for investment to process the fuel in the UK.

Diverse sector capabilities

Although hugely important, Offshore Renewables and recycling are far from being the whole story of North East Lincolnshire’s economic resurgence. The area’s seafood and food processing sectors continue to be world leaders, with a highly developed cluster of businesses and expertise. Perhaps more surprisingly, the area’s skilled industrial workforce has been identified as meeting the needs of Advanced Manufacturing businesses, making North East Lincolnshire a new ‘challenger location’ for investments in sectors including automotive and transport, notably where they intersect with sustainable energy technologies. Overall, the area is characterised by a breadth of industrial competencies that bodes well for sustainable economic development.

A new era of success and increased prosperity

Economic fortunes may have fluctuated, but North East Lincolnshire’s geography, people and core capabilities have remained powerful assets throughout. Now, with the area attracting a new wave of leading-edge technology businesses, the signs are that it’s North East Lincolnshire’s turn to enjoy a new era of success and increased prosperity.