ON Thursday I was privileged to attend Hartlepool Business Awards and able to say a few words at the event.
It was a great evening and I particularly want to pay tribute to Alby Pattison, managing director of Hart Biologicals, and his staff for winning not only Hartlepool Business of the Year, but the award for Innovation and Technology.
Alby is a great ambassador for Hartlepool businesses and Hart Biologicals is exactly the sort of business we need in this town for the 21st Century – grounded in our manufacturing heritage but with a relentless focus on improvement and innovation in providing the products that a growing global business sector – medical diagnostics –wants.
Hart Biologicals is exporting all over the world, bringing wealth back into the town and creating employment opportunities.
It’s never an easy time to be in business. It is really important that the town showcases its business talent and highlights the acumen, ingenuity and enterprising spirit that characterises successful entrepreneurs and which are necessary if any business is to thrive. We in Hartlepool have much of that spirit.
The truth is it is harder than ever to run and maintain a business.
I’m not referring to the immense short-term difficulties that businesses in our part of the world have to deal with as a result of cuts, demand and subsequent loss of consumer confidence. I’m not even talking about the historic difficulties taking place in the Eurozone, our main market for exports.
Heaven knows how that will pan out, although it is looking increasingly likely that it will be turbulent and expensive.
I am referring to the intense competition that spans the entire globe.
Firms in Hartlepool are not merely competing for orders and contracts in our town or even this country, but across the world, and our competitors in China, Brazil or India are keen to snap up the orders.
Increasingly, technology is changing the way business operates, meaning that suppliers and customers can be anywhere on the planet.
Hartlepool have to compete with their rivals harder than ever.
But with such challenge comes huge opportunity. A rising global middle class means that there are billions more customers for Hartlepool goods and services.
The quality of businesses and the people who work in them in the town is higher than ever. The drive towards innovation means that the town’s goods and services stay competitive.
There remain huge challenges. As I mentioned to businesses on Thursday, there are problems with demand, a loss of consumer confidence and difficulties in securing bank finance to help firms grow.
The problem of unemployment is pressing and although I recognise that businesses are struggling just to retain workers, I hope they will strive to take on staff, especially young people.
I want a concerted drive towards more exports to the markets where economic growth is moving fast.
I also want to encourage business leaders to be mentors to children and young people. So that they too will be inspired and motivated to think that they can set up a successful business.
But, despite these big challenges, the clear message from the Business Awards, and the message that each and every one of us needs to send out, is that Hartlepool is well and truly open for business.