Economic development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) reported a successful year of investment and job creation in the region for 2015/16; the 50th anniversary of its predecessor.
An estimated 855 jobs are expected to be created or retained in the region as a result of HIE’s investments last year, 45 of them in Orkney.
A summary of the organisation’s year-end figures shows turnover among supported businesses and social enterprises in Orkney will increase by £2.6 million as a result of HIE’s investments. International activity secured export sales of £1.3 million.
The organisation assisted businesses across all its key sectors in Orkney, including energy where £2.1 million was invested in EMEC’s £3 million hydrogen production facility which is expected to be operational this summer. Highlights from the area team include a £118,000 investment in locally-based tidal energy device developer Scotrenewables, aiding its technology development work, and helping secure 24 jobs.
Other positive developments include £166,000 towards the £1 million development of a visitor centre and production facilities by Sheila Fleet Jewellery, which will boost tourism and create jobs.
With HIE assistance and on the back of strong demand for sustainable Orkney food and drink produce from companies such as Marks and Spencer, Orkney Fishermen’s Society was able to make a major investment in energy efficient crab cooking equipment.
HIE also provided assistance to help improve the prospects of Orkney Cheese, the farmers’ co-operative which is the main outlet for Orkney-produced milk, including helping it access the Canadian market.
Through a contract with Orkney Tourism Group, HIE is investing in supporting tourism businesses to embrace digital opportunities and work continues towards achieving 'World Host' status for Orkney.
During this year, local entrepreneur, Kirsteen Stewart secured sponsorship from HIE to take part in the Entrepreneurial Development Programme at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston which will give her business a global boost.
A programme to empower communities to take control of delivering key local services has been supported by HIE in partnership with Orkney Islands Council. This year, an initial pilot has seen a number of initiatives planned in the areas of Stronsay and Papa Westray.
HIE has supported an number of community-led projects including the development of a community hub on Shapinsay, and arts craft & hertiatge centre on Papa Westray and the upgrading of the community shop on Eday. HIE also contributed to the development of a North Isles Landscape Partnership application which, if successful, will deliver significant opportunities across Orkney’s north isles.
Fifty five percent of households and businesses in Orkney can access the new high-speed fibre broadband network. Customers can order in a number of areas including Burray, Kirkwall, and St Maragaret’s Hope. Latest areas also include Deerness, Evie and Orphir, bringing the total homes able to access higher broadband speeds to more than 6,000. The Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband project, being led in the region by HIE, is investing £146m in a new fibre optic infrastructure.
Graeme Harrison, HIE area manager for Orkney, said: “Each year we set challenging goals that deliver measurable benefits for our clients and that enables the region to contribute to Scotland’s economic growth.
At the same time, our commitment to community development has achieved excellent results. Our communities continue to seek innovative local solutions to the challenges of grid constraints and to develop projects that will improve their resilience, helping to improve the long term viability of some of our most fragile areas.
“There is similar growth among social enterprises, which helps tackle inequality, create jobs, develop skills and boost the economy.”
The year also marked the 50th anniversary of the establishment of HIE’s predecessor, the Highlands and Islands Development Board (HIDB).
Professor Lorne Crerar, HIE chairman, said: “The Highlands and Islands can make a major contribution to the delivery of Scotland's Economic Strategy. It is a region of entrepreneurship, innovation and exporting as well as leading the way in community ownership of land and assets.
We need to continue investing in facilities such as digital technology, development sites, premises and transport.”