North East ‘should focus on opportunities’

As guests gathered in Newcastle this week for the latest of DigitalAgenda’s ‘city impact’ events, there are clear signs that the North East region is starting to assert itself as one of the UK’s leading tech business clusters, with its own assets and opportunities alongside affordable house prices.

James Woudhuysen speaking at Dynamo17The North East is becoming stronger as a UK regional tech cluster, with job and business opportunities growing for the sector beyond the startup economy, one of Europe’s most respected speakers on the future of IT told professionals in the region last week.

At the annual conference of the Dynamo North East tech alliance, James Woudhuysen, journalist and visiting professor at South Bank University, listed no less than 16 areas he believed the North East tech sector should explore to grow, including:

* mass-manufactured buildings
* shale gas and oil
* subsea technologies
* service robots for old people
* electric cars
* robot commercial vehicles
* quantum technologies
* virtual reality technology.

“The North East has an interest in a lot of these areas and could further exploit them,” Woudhuysen said. “I’m not flattering the North East; it’s happening, as long as it doesn’t concentrate too much on its startups.”

Woudhuysen argued that “the future of work is the future of older workers and it’s time we stopped indulging tech-savvy millennials and appreciated older people are going to be a vital part of the workforce. Youth should respect older people and older people should listen to youth.”

He urged the North East to “get its act together, not against the North West or London, or against anyone. Your competitive strength will come from your excellence – make a bigger cake and everyone will come to your door.”

Dynamo says 35,000 people are now employed in tech in the North East, with 1,500 new jobs being created each year. But, says Dynamo, there is also a significant shortage of skilled labour, with an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 vacant roles in the regional tech sector.

In its annual Tech Nation report this spring, Tech City UK found that both Newcastle and Sunderland had the lowest house price: digital salary ratio, as a result of rising tech salaries and the comparatively low cost of homes.

Newcastle had strong salary and business growth, said Tech City UK, with a 39% increase in digital tech businesses in five years, and 22% of tech businesses classed as high-growth.

At DigitalAgenda’s city impact dinner in Newcastle this week, Catherine Johns, innovation and business growth director for Business Durham and NETPark, outlined her organisation’s approach to economic development, with a focus on actual outputs backed by human stories.

DigitalAgenda’s latest city gathering follows a first DigitalAgenda event at KPMG in the city last September, as well as one in Birmingham last week.

At last September’s Newcastle event, Mark Tewdwr-Jones, director of Newcastle City Futures, urged Newcastle to offer itself as a “test bed” for innovation to help ensure that its residents have new digital technologies to help them face the future with more confidence.

Tewdr-Jones said Newcastle faced major physical, economic and social challenges, including an ageing population, climate change and the need for infrastructure renewal But he said the city would benefit from its “unique assets” including its landmarks, location, transport and connectivity.

DigitalAgenda’s regular city impact dinners bring together founders, investors, policy people and more, for discussion about the future city and digital economy. The dinners help build local networks and share ideas to address future city challenges.

Newcastle city impact dinner – 11 July – guests

Blue Kangaroo Design
Business Durham
Creative Fuse North East
Hoults Yard
NatWest Entrepreneurial Spark
Nebula Labs
Newcastle College
Newcastle NE1
Newcastle University
Northstar Ventures
Opencast Software
Plan Digital UK
SITS Group
Sunderland Software City
Tetrad Recruitment Group

Thanks to KPMG for hosting the Newcastle dinner, as well as to our dinner sponsor, Muckle LLP.