The city has remembered that it needs us

Michael DammsThere is an old cliché that the management arrived at the right answer by trying all of the other possibilities first.

2009 was not a good year for UK PLC by any historic standard, with the over-reliance on debt, faith-like belief that the banking fraternity and the City of London were ‘masters of the universe’, and the expansion of the public sector as the alternative to jobs in the private sector, all being revealed as flawed.

However, looking forward optimistically to 2010 and beyond, it just may be possible that another cliché may apply – every cloud has a silver lining.

As a Chamber of Commerce ‘in the North’, we used to get calls on the lines of how unfortunate we were to have all of this manufacturing, we were in effect doomed and would have to depend on their largesse.

More recently though, we’ve been getting comments on the lines of how lucky we are to have the tangible and secure base of manufacturing (usually with the rider of telling us how they’ve always supported and rather liked manufacturing of course!)

There appears now to be an acceptance that manufacturing is an important element of a modern, mixed, and hence stable economy. Even in the midst of recession Germany is running a positive Balance of Payments – Moscow and Shanghai’s streets are full of Mercs, Audis, Porsches and VWs.

Thankfully though, we have a tremendous legacy to build on, which never really went away. In Lancashire we have 100,000 skilled manufacturing workers, and clearly a growing will for the academic institutions, some of whom are the finest in the world, to help.

I have the pleasure of visiting lots (and there are lots) of highly innovative, creative, productive and committed companies who can compete with the best in the world. Besides our world-class capability in aerospace and defence we have a capability in virtually every sector that either works in metals or composites or produces or uses machinery. We also continue to lead the way in our ‘traditional’ industries like wallcoverings, packaging and “clever” textiles.

The challenge that we face is how we build on these strengths. The Chamber chairs a cross-sectoral group of public agencies, academia, the largest manufacturers (including aerospace, nuclear and furniture) and SME representative bodies, all committed to recreate Lancashire’s pre-eminence as the UK’s centre of excellence. You find us in good spirits.

There is much more to the area than manufacturing, for example we are great fans of the emerging Pennine Lancashire playground/sports/leisure offer, and there is a fabulous food offer in some of the finest restaurants with many of UK’s leading chefs.

However, while it is debatable whether the UK has arrived at the conclusion that manufacturing matters by accident or design, we have to be opportunistic and build on the deserved reputation of ‘Made in Lancashire’ while we are in fashion.

We hope that we can count on the manufacturing community being loud and proud in 2010.

Michael Damms, CEO, Chamber of Commerce East Lancashire.