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Cta Man

Powering our potential

Published 06/03/2024 by Stuart Black 3 min read

Stuart Black, HIE’s chief executive, reflects on the importance of inward investment in realising the region’s economic potential

It’s not often we make a funding approval on the scale of the one we announced last month.

Clearly £24.5m is a very substantial amount, but for an inward investment project forecast to be worth around £350m and create hundreds of skilled jobs, it has to be worth it.

I’m talking about the Japanese company Sumitomo Electric Industries and its plans to establish major operations manufacturing subsea cables for the offshore wind industry in the Highlands and Islands.

We hear a lot about the economic challenges facing our region, which are well documented and ongoing. In fact, immediately following the announcement of the funding approval for the Sumitomo project, I was addressing the Rural Housing Scotland conference at Aviemore, focusing on one of the biggest challenges we face as a region.

The contrast is a good example of the point made by Alastair Nicolson, our area manager for Lochaber, Skye and Wester Ross. In his recent blog Alastair observed: ‘for every fault there’s a strength, for every problem there’s opportunity, and strength plus opportunity equals potential.’

The Sumitomo project is a great example of the potential that exists in the Highlands and Islands, particularly when you combine our huge natural energy resource, the availability of skilled labour and the presence of the Inverness and Cromarty Firth Green Freeport.

We already produce lots of offshore renewable energy here, and now we’re going to produce the cables that bring that energy ashore.

The demand for subsea cables is increasing. The company’s operations are expected to create hundreds of high-quality employment opportunities during the construction phase and beyond. Crucially, this will include opportunities throughout the supply chain, spreading the benefits to many local businesses in other parts of the region.

On a wider scale it’s also part of Scotland’s just transition to a net zero economy, in which our region has a major role to play.

When it comes to growing our region’s economy, investment by companies from outside of Scotland is crucial and goes hand in hand with investment in growing local businesses.

In recent years examples of inward investment have included BASF in the Outer Hebrides, Orbex in Moray, Lifescan in Inverness, and Webhelp in Argyll. These are all companies whose origins lie elsewhere but are making significant investment here, creating jobs that will help us in the vital task of retaining and attracting talented people of working age.

At any one time, HIE’s inward investment team is typically managing a very healthy pipeline of around 100 enquiries from companies overseas or elsewhere in the UK considering setting up or expanding in our region. It takes many months, often years, for these projects to come to fruition. Indeed, Sumitomo has been part of that enquiries pipeline for more than a year.

Supporting our local communities and homegrown businesses will always be central to HIE’s mission, and we’re absolutely committed to playing our part in addressing challenges such as those currently affecting transport and housing provision.

However, with interest at its current level and as the Inverness and Cromarty Firth Green Freeport becomes established, we can be very optimistic about attracting other inward investment projects as a key element of our drive to build and sustain a greener, fairer and more resilient region that benefits everyone. 


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