Writing for Scottish Business Insider, Victoria Masterson finds wide-ranging investment is set to transform Inverclyde. 
 
Plans to build a new £12m distillery on the Ardgowan Estate near Inverkip are symptomatic of a new chapter of growth for Inverclyde, which spans 61 square miles along the south bank of the River Clyde estuary. The area, which hosts one of Scotland’s smallest local authorities, is enjoying renewed investment in some of its key maritime, shipbuilding and industrial assets – alongside the growth of sectors including food and drink and tourism.
 
“We are really excited to be building a new distillery here in Inverclyde and we’ve had tremendous support locally,” says Ardgowan Distillery chief executive Martin McAdam. “Our vision is to build an outstanding distillery of significant scale to make a lowland single malt that will have a distinctive taste and flavour given its proximity to the sea. We’re also planning a world-class visitor centre which will be easily accessible to visitors from Glasgow and the central belt as well as tourists arriving on cruise ships.”
 
                                                                                                     
 
Above - The Ardgowan Distillery will be based on the famous Ardgowan Estate

The proposal will resurrect the name of the Ardgowan Distillery, which was founded in 1896 and located in Baker Street, Greenock. After a few years of whisky production, the distillery was used to make grain spirt and industrial alcohol until it was destroyed in the May Blitz of 1941. The project has raised more than £500,000 seed capital so far, and construction is scheduled to start later this year after Inverclyde Council granted planning permission in March.

“The distillery lies on the Ardgowan Estate, which has an incredible history stretching back to King Robert the Bruce, so we imagine visitors will want to take in the distillery and the estate as part of a day trip,”  McAdam says. “We plan to build a distillery and visitor attraction of which Inverclyde and Scotland will be proud.”

Food and drink has been identified as one of Inverclyde’s six key growth sectors, alongside renewable energy, new technology, maritime and engineering, customer care and life sciences.

Plans in the pipeline include a £1.8m community enterprise hub for small and micro businesses that will specifically support the food and drink sector with food and drink incubator premises accredited to the highest food standards. The project is being led by Riverside Inverclyde, the urban regeneration company backed by Inverclyde Council, Scottish Enterprise and the private sector with support from the Scottish Government.

“The specific area of Broomhill and Drumfrochar In Greenock, where the hub will be speculatively created, has a rich food and drink heritage with companies including Tate & Lyle, Lochore and Fergusons, Walkers, and Lawson’s Lemonade – all once part of the fabric of the area dating back to the early 1820’s,” explains Andrew Bowman, Head of Business Investment at Riverside Inverclyde.

“That food and drink ‘hub’ delivered large employment for over 170 years before falling away. As Scotland’s £14.5bn food and drink industry enjoys a resurgence, we’re aiming to resurrect Inverclyde’s food and drink manufacturing and supply chain activities, supporting the national aim for the sector to break through the £17bn barrier by 2018.”

One new arrival in the food and drink sector is the The New Chocolate Company, set up by husband and wife team Joanne and Brian Dick, who started making chocolate as a hobby. The couple recently took on new premises at Kelburn Business Park in Port Glasgow, a new business park 15 minutes from Glasgow Airport with more than 40,000 sq ft of new build industrial and business space.

“We started in Inverclyde, because we live here, two minutes from our factory,” explains Brian Dick. “We started the business with one employee three months ago and this has increased to four in a short period. Our main business is the manufacture of chocolate products. These include chocolate bars, moulded and dipped chocolates, as well as Easter eggs, Christmas moulded figures and chocolate lollipops. We supply these to corporate clients and the general public. We’re also about to start running leisure workshops for adults, team building days and children’s school holiday workshops.”

The company’s operations include hand-made chocolate production alongside a packaging and workshop area. A grant from Inverclyde Council will help fund the cost of an additional machine to increase production levels.

“Our plans have always been to grow at a pace that suits us, without being dictated to by external forces,” Brian Dick says. “We are passionate about the products we produce and are very keen to make sure that everything is of the highest quality, including packaging.”

                                                                                                     

Above - Kelburn Business Park - home to The New Chocolate Factory

Over the last year, Inverclyde Council says it has spent more than £30m of its annual £94m procurement budget with local businesses in Inverclyde. This is up from £24m the previous year and represents 33.5 per cent of council procurement spending.

“Small business is the lifeblood of our economy,” says Councillor Stephen McCabe, leader of Inverclyde Council and chair of the council’s policy and resources committee. “While the overriding factor needs to be making sure that public money is spent wisely, it’s enormously welcome to our business community that our local economy benefited from over £30m of spending. The addition of the City Deal projects across the west of Scotland continues to open up opportunity for businesses across the area to tap into public sector contracts.”

The £1.13bn City Deal for Glasgow City Region – the first deal of its kind in Scotland when it was forged in 2014 – is expected to leverage another £3.3bn of private sector investment and will fund three infrastructure projects across Inverclyde totalling almost £27m.

Key among these is the £14m expansion of Greenock Ocean Terminal, which has been billed as Scotland’s ‘cruise ship capital’ and is also Scotland’s deepest container terminal – recognised worldwide for its role in exporting goods including Scotch whisky and Scottish food stuffs. The terminal has been at the heart of Scotland’s shipping industry since 1876, with the container terminal officially opening in 1969. The city deal investment will significantly expand cargo and cruise berthing facilities and create a state-of-the-art visitor centre. Almost 60 ships brought more than 100,000 passengers to the terminal last year, spending an estimated £10m.

Above - Greenock Ocean Terminal plays host to over 105,000 cruise visitors each year

“Inverclyde’s importance as a cruise ship destination is growing year on year,” says Councillor Jim Clocherty, depute leader of Inverclyde Council and vice convenor of regeneration. “The cruise ships bring thousands of visitors to our area every year. That brings benefits to the local and to the wider Scottish economy. That’s why we have included the project to expand Greenock’s Ocean Terminal as part of the £1bn city deal. This will deliver infrastructure, investment and jobs to the Inverclyde economy and across the wider Glasgow city region."

The city deal will also fund more than £3m of infrastructure work around Inverkip, including improvements to the A78 and the creation of new homes and commercial space. Another £10m is being invested in creating a renewables hub at Greenock’s historic Inchgreen dry dock – Britain’s largest dry dock at 1,000 feet long.

“The projects at Ocean Terminal and Inchgreen have the potential to help revitalise the area and provide much-need job opportunities,” says Andrew McCracken, a director in Glasgow with property agency JLL. “As well as providing ship repair and marine construction facilities, Inchgreen is ideally located to service and support the renewable energy industry in Scotland and further afield.”

In the retail sector, JLL says Inverclyde’s main shopping centre, Oak Mall in Greenock, is facing challenging times. “The focus of retail activity in the area is now based at the retail park in Port Glasgow, which has recently undergone a £40m expansion,” McCracken adds. “It is already home to Tesco, B&Q, TK Maxx, Watt Brothers, B&M, Aldi, Costa Coffee and the Waterwheel restaurant. Development is also underway on new facilities for Marks & Spencer and Next.”

This year, Inverclyde Council pledged to invest £2.5m in the area’s towns and villages to boost economic development activity. Greenock town centre, the largest in Inverclyde, will receive £1.9m. Gourock and Port Glasgow town centres will receive £250,000 each with the remaining £100,000 allocated equally among the villages.

                                                                                                     

Above - The newly refurbished Custom House in Greenock offers one of the best Grade A office paces in Scotland

Meanwhile, Riverside Inverclyde has just completed its £4.1m upgrading of Greenock’s A-listed Custom House, which was built in 1818 and served as an important base for excisemen on the Clyde. The landmark, which now offers multi-occupancy office suites of various sizes, is at the centre of a strategy to attract aspirational growth companies to Inverclyde.

“Custom House is a superb example of the continuing regeneration of Inverclyde,” says Riverside Inverclyde chair Gerry McCarthy. “Now that the final phase has been completed, we look forward to attracting further growth companies to Inverclyde, such as PG Paper Company and Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions, who are already established tenants in the building.”

Set up in 2003 by Poonam Gupta OBE – a former Scottish Asian Businesswoman of the Year – and her husband Puneet Gupta, PG Paper is one of the UK’s fastest growing paper companies, providing customised paper solutions for paper mills and end-users. The company’s products are available in more than 50 countries, with turnover in excess of £34m in the latest financial year.

                                                                                                     

Above - PG Paper continues to grow with a £34m turnover in 2016

“Inverclyde is a great location for developing an international business,” says PG Paper marketing executive Lorna O’Docherty. “With the airport only 30 minutes away and many other travel links close by, we are easily accessible for business partners and clients. The Greenock Ocean terminal on our doorstep is a huge benefit and is a great representation of our global trading business. We are constantly developing our presence in new markets across the world including North Africa, Russia and South America.”

The company has more than doubled staff numbers from eight to 20 over the last three years and says moving to Greenock’s Custom House will accommodate its growth plans for the next three years. “We have sizeable capital reserves on our balance sheet and are in a good position to continue to grow and potentially acquire and invest in the right businesses,” O’Docherty adds.

At Inverclyde Chamber of Commerce, president Linda Scott believes the success of existing businesses, alongside inward investors, has led to an increase in employment – despite challenging market conditions for many.

“These are exciting times for Inverclyde – and whilst there’s economic challenges in terms of what Brexit means and ‘indyref2’ – the potential for our companies has never been stronger,” Scott says. “Opportunity is high and our companies have expanded their horizons.Our heritage of reinvention puts these challenges in perspective and any uncertainties will reduce over time.”

The chamber made history itself last summer by officially changing its name from Greenock to Inverclyde Chamber of Commerce after 203 years. The aim was to better reflect the geographies served by the chamber, which was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1813.

Significant developments for the area include the redevelopment of Ferguson Marine Engineering’s shipyard in Port Glasgow, led by Scottish engineering entrepreneur Jim McColl. Winners of the 2017 Inverclyde Chamber of Commerce's Best Large Performing Business, the business continues to offer job oppoortunites for Inverclyde citizens. 

“With his big plans for the future forging ahead, the developments that Jim McColl and his team are bringing to Ferguson Marine in Port Glasgow is seeing the re-emergence of shipbuilding in Inverclyde and, given our heritage, that is truly thrilling,” Scott says. “Their developing facilities are transforming the whole landscape.”

                                                                                                        

Above - Ferguson Marine's John Morgan shares some insight into the company and its current strategy

Since McColl and team acquired the former Ferguson’s Shipbuilders yard in September 2014, they have rebuilt the workforce from a handful of employees to 375 staff, including 35 apprentices and a further 130 contractors.

“Within a few months, a new management team was in place and we had announced a £12m redevelopment plan,” says Liam Campbell, managing director of Ferguson Marine Engineering. “We have since invested a total of £25m to see the company transformed into a world-class shipbuilder and fabrication services provider. We built the world’s first and second hybrid ferry and, just over a fortnight after the yard was rescued, we were appointed to build the third hybrid at a cost of £12.3 million. Other orders followed and we have a current order book of over £100m.”

In the coming years, Ferguson Marine Engineering says it will not only service the market it has known since the turn of the century – building more than 350 ships for the sea-lanes of the world – but move into new marine markets. These include addressing the demand for small cruise ship conversions, repair and maintenance facilities, and using advanced engineering capabilities to provide a fabrication partner for wider marine projects including the development of wave, tidal and offshore wind energy sectors.

Above - Ferguson Marine's new offices will be completed in October 2017

“Many people talk about the challenges that communities like Inverclyde and others face in terms of ensuring jobs, industry and investment but we have to remain positive,” Campbell says. "Inverclyde is very important to our business and we’ve put a lot of emphasis on making sure that the shipyard continues to be an integral part of the community.”

To learn more about the available support and opportunities to business looking to invest in Inverclyde, click here.

This article was published on 19 June 2017 by Business Insider - www.insider.co.uk