We need a regional economic strategy that recognises the strengths of the digital industries in the north east and their power to create jobs that can transform lives, says Herb Kim
I’ve been working in the north east for more than a dozen years, moving to Newcastle in 2002 to set up Codeworks, a not-for-profit initiative with a mission around promoting and supporting the digital industries of the region. Little did I know then how much my move here would change my life. My daughter was born at the RVI so I even have a Geordie daughter – though we try not to mention that around her Scouser mum.
Yet as much as my life has changed, the north east’s tech industry has changed far more dramatically. Back in 2002, despite the success of Sage, there was almost no recognition that the digital industries had any role to play for the future of the regional economy.
In fact, a director of One North East, the organisation responsible for leading the region’s economic strategy at the time, actually tried to shut down Codeworks in 2005, based on the argument that he didn’t believe the north east could be competitive in the digital space.
Instead, the digital industries have continued to grow and grow over the last 12 years. Despite the global recession and the UK government’s austerity policies, we see broad-based growth across the sector. Most importantly, the digital sector is being increasingly recognised as a sector with real organic strength and hope for the future of the north east.
Back in 2002 we could only point to Sage and a handful of smaller players. Today we see significant growth not only in Sage but in organisations like Accenture, HP, BA, Virgin Money and HMRC. We’re seeing smaller software companies like Orchard Systems, Opencast and Orchid Software enjoy promising growth. Digital agencies such as TH_NK, Orangebus, Shout, Leighton or Hedgehog are all showing sustained organic growth. Games studios such as Reflections and Eutechnyx continue to be major players in the global videogames industry. Ignite and Campus North have helped create the most exciting tech startup community in the UK outside of Shoreditch. The Dynamo organisation has done great work in the past 18 months to connect the major north east corporate players in IT.
And it’s not just Newcastle. Digital City’s Boho One continues to be a thriving Middlesbrough hub, housing great companies like the Double Eleven games studio and seasoned entrepreneurs like Kevin Mann. David Dunn’s leadership of Sunderland Software Centre has led to Sunderland being named as the home of the Digital Catapult Centre for the north east and Tees Valley. Digital agency Leighton has grown to 100 staff from its Rainton Bridge location. Gateshead is home to a significant chunk of the global CCP online games empire and also hosts Xerolight, arguably one of the north’s most promising spinout companies.
The global digital technology revolution is still only in its early years and we have shown time and again that the north east can and should compete in this sector. We must continue to support the companies and organisations in the sector and we need to encourage our emerging talents whether they be young or old to consider the digital industries as a place for their future careers.
The recent appointment of Accenture’s Bob Paton to the North East LEP is a real bright spot as Bob knows personally the power of the digital industries in creating jobs that can transform lives. I’m hopeful that Bob’s leadership and industry will create an economic strategy that recognises our strengths and our potential to become a leading European region featuring digital technologies at the centre of its economic development.
Herb Kim is founder of the north east’s annual Thinking Digital Conference. You can follow him on Twitter. Do you agree with his view of the north east tech scene? Tell us your views in the comments section below – by clicking on the little speech bubble.
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