Invest North East England has recently appointed a new Inward Investment Manager, Rachel Burdis. Former Tech Sector Lead for Gateshead Council, Rachel will use her in depth knowledge of the digital, tech and life sciences sectors to encourage businesses to base themselves in the region and help create more and better jobs for the North East.
We have caught up with her, to discuss her new role, her experiences and how she believes inward investment can support the economic recovery of the North East post COVID-19.
What previous experience do you have working with businesses in the region, and championing the North East as a place to work and invest?
Before joining Invest North East England my previous role was Tech Sector Lead for Gateshead Council, where I was responsible for supporting the tech, creative, digital and games sectors in the area. One of the projects I was working on was the creation of a new immersive incubation hub to support North East tech startup businesses through access to tailored support, events, other like-minded professionals and working space. This, along with PROTO, will form part of the National Innovation Centre for Immersive Technology in Gateshead.
Whilst in that role, I also set up NOVA – the official Games Network for Gateshead and the North East of England, to recognise and support the growing community of successful studios based here and the exciting titles being released. The network is run by games companies and supporters of games, and we ran our first NOVA Games Conference in 2019.
Prior to my role at Gateshead Council, I was Head of Digital Union, which is a region wide membership network working with SMEs and businesses in the creative and digital space. We created the One Region, One Sector, One Statement publication that is used by Invest North East England to help promote the region to potential investors. It outlines what makes us special and why companies should consider investing in the North East.
I also ran a small training company – Dev Academy UK – that worked to understand what the technical skills challenges are in our region. We did a lot of work with larger tech companies, many of whom are looking for unique ways to train and develop talent beyond curriculums.
Can you tell us more about your role at Invest North East England? What areas will you be leading on?
Right now it’s about letting inward investors know the North East is open for business and supporting the work of the North East LEP and the North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group.
A large part of my role is about promoting the benefits of being based here, everything from our low cost base and skilled labour force, to our centres of excellence, academic expertise and excellent quality of life. Because the future is unknown for many businesses, it’s positive benefits like these that make the North East an ideal location to invest in.
What is Invest North East England’s focus for 2020 and beyond?
In the short term we’re looking at how businesses are responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Some are less affected than others, but more data and information is emerging all the time.
Both now, and in the long term, we will always be open to businesses that are looking to expand or relocate in the region. Our job is to make sure the region really shines for potential investors.
What role will Invest North East England and inward investment play in the region’s economic recovery during the coronavirus pandemic?
By attracting more investment in the region we’re helping to create more and better jobs, which supports the North East LEP’s aim to grow and improve the region’s economy.
Investors will be managing risk and looking to regions that have a large and growing business base, skilled workforce, and lower costs compared with other areas of the UK. North East England offers all that, and more.
Do you think the coronavirus pandemic will change inward investment?
It will certainly change the status quo but it will create lots of opportunity too, especially within life sciences and digital. Businesses working in our region are developing innovative solutions and products that will aid our economic recovery and there are lots of companies outside the area that want to tap into that.
There is more interest in digital solutions because of the coronavirus pandemic and we have the assets and support networks in place to help businesses commercialise those ideas.
The North East is home to internationally renowned science parks and a strong ecosystem that makes it an attractive area for inward investment. Many businesses are looking to innovate and pivot as part of their recovery plans. The North East is the place to do that.
What are the key inward investment sectors in the North East?
Our five focus areas remain advanced manufacturing, life sciences, digital, energy, and business services because of the unique strengths the region has in these areas. However, we’re monitoring data to see if, and how, the sectors have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic so we can adapt our approach if necessary.
Why is immersive technology an important sector for the North East? What are our region’s strengths?
It’s a combination of things really. We have specialists based here, working on immersive training, entertainment and visualisation experiences, such as Neutron VR, Luminous Group, Dimension amongst others. We also have key assets like PROTO – Europe’s first dedicated centre for emerging technology – and VRTGO Labs, the UK’s first industry-led immersive tech network.
Combine that with an unrivaled business network – we have more digital dedicated networks in the North East than other areas of the UK – thought leaders, and world-class businesses boasting huge global clients, the North East is well positioned as a leading destination for immersive technology.
There’s a huge amount of opportunity in the sector, particularly around how it can support industry 4.0 within our manufacturing businesses. We’re working with the Department for International Trade to encourage immersive tech businesses to the region to help develop new solutions that will drive innovation in the North East’s manufacturing sector.
There’s a lot of support on offer for immersive tech companies to develop new products for tech, digital, and manufacturing businesses to cut costs, save time and look after the health and safety of staff – particularly in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Examples include building virtual avatars to ensure social distancing and product familiarisation through virtual training. Our support networks in the North East can connect people that want to find out more with many excellent companies with the capability to develop solutions.
Skills are another key strength. Our universities run a number of courses to train the next generation of developers for digital content. Northumbria University, for example, will run a Masters course in immersive tech and PhD students are focusing their research on immersive technologies. Newcastle University delivers a Masters course in Computer Game Engineering and Gateshead College is offering a course on emerging technology. Our region is providing students with the skills industry needs.
Students at Gateshead College and Sunderland University have really benefitted from working with PROTO in Gateshead, as it’s given them hands on experience with creating content. They have access to equipment and expertise that puts them ahead of other students in the country.
Why is health and life sciences an important sector for the North East? What are our region’s strengths?
The health and life sciences sector benefits from many of the same things as the immersive tech sector in that it has access to key assets, expertise and a world-class support network.
As well as two internationally renowned science parks at Newcastle Helix and Durham’s NETPark, there is the International Centre for Life in central Newcastle. We are also home to major players in the sector including QuantuMDx, GSK, MSD, Aesica and Piramal Pharma.
The region also boasts a top ranked life science university, a trust with the highest number of research studies in the UK, and centres of excellence in ageing and age-related diseases, personalised medicine, digital healthcare and biopharma manufacturing.
One of the key reasons we have so many companies thriving across the North East is collaboration, it’s one of the region’s strengths. Knowledge transfer and the support on offer for businesses to overcome challenges really set us apart. North East businesses will always signpost help on offer, and no matter what the challenge, there will be organisations that can help.
Because of our health and life sciences assets, including research and translation capability and expertise, the North East continues to attract significant private and public sector investment.
Looking to the future, are there any projects or trends within inward investment you’re particularly excited about?
Lowering risk will be high on the agenda for many investors at the moment. With low labour attrition rates, access to a skilled labour market and high quality of life, the North East has a huge amount to offer.
As we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic we will be keeping an eye on trends around near-shoring and north-shoring as companies in a variety of sectors seek to bring their supply chains closer to their core activities as well as moving activities away from London and the South East to areas like the North East with its many operational advantages.
Inward investment will play a key role in the recovery of the region and help create more and better jobs for the North East.
For more information about how the Invest North East England team can support your business locate in North East England visit our support pages