Byline: MICHAEL BROWN
THE 12 months leading up to the launch of the Think North East England First campaign had been brutal for the region's economy.
Northern Rock had been nationalised, Nissan had laid off nearly 1,200 staff at its Washington plant as car sales plummeted, while other firms were downsizing left, right and centre in an effort to weather the financial storm.
But when The Journal called on people to stand up and show their support for North East businesses by choosing local products and services when spending their increasingly hard-earned money, the region gave a resounding answer.
Now, just over two years on, despite the continued turmoil in the eurozone, the picture has changed dramatically for many companies, with a sense of co-operation and camaraderie helping many firms to thrive despite the recession.
"In 2009 we sold 338,000 cars, down from 386,000 in 2008, and lost in the region of 1,200 jobs because of the fall in demand," said Nissan's Paul James. "But since the campaign's launch in January 2009 we've seen more than pounds 900m invested in our Sunderland plant to introduce five new models, including the Juke in 2010 and the Leaf electric car and battery plant.
"The total invested in the site over 26 years is only around pounds 3.5 billion so to see that much in such a short period is unprecedented."
Mr James said thanks to the popularity of the 24 uashqai pretty much all of the staff who were made redundant in 2009 were rehired within a year and with sales of the Japanese firm's Sunderland- made models bouncing back to a bumper 480,000 cars in 2011, it meant the plant was now enjoying its largest ever workforce, with 5,600 people on site, and that was seeing a trickle-down effect for other local firms. "We estimate that for every one job we create there's another four created in the UK supply chain, three of which are here in the North East," he said.
"Recently we've seen local suppliers such as Vantec, Unipress, Snop and Calsonic Kansei all publicly coming out and hiring new people. And we've seen a seat foam supplier, Lear, move from abroad to be closer to us. "People are now tending to come here to be near the factory and that's not something we're about to discourage. "And I think the mood of the automotive industry in the region has probably done a 180 turn since the Think First campaign launched." But it's not just manufacturing where some success has been seen. While Tyneside may have lost its most iconic brand with production of Newcastle Brown ale being shifted to Tadcaster in West Yorkshire, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear and County Durham now boast 32 breweries. And, as highlighted in Monday's Campaign for the Protection of Rural England Field to Fork report, across the region many small producers are successfully working together to find their place, despite the presence of more and more huge supermarkets. And that in turn helps feed a desire among tourists to come to try the great food and drink the North East has to offer. The Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, along with figures such as Sir John Hall, were among the first to support the Think First campaign. "Tourism is a vital part of our business, so we were delighted to ask families in the region to Think North East First," said the duke.
"And we employ more than 300 From 23 staff across our estates and 200 workers in Alnwick Garden in high season, so we understand the importance of the campaign. "From a farming perspective I know a demand for local products benefits our farmers immensely. …