Hethel Engineering Centre could secure �3.77m loan from Norfolk County Council

Proposals to expand an award-winning south Norfolk engineering centre and help new highly-skilled engineering firms will be discussed by Norfolk County Council's Cabinet next week.

Cabinet members are recommended to approve a loan of �3.77million in a bid to secure European match funding to meet the anticipated �6-6.5million cost of expanding the Hethel Engineering Centre site, by building a new Advanced Manufacturing Centre.

A report to the council says there is a list of start-up companies which are waiting for the opportunity to move into 'incubation space' at the centre, which is currently operating at full capacity.

It states that there is also increasing demand for 'grow on space', with one existing tenant already outlining their plans to take up to four of the 16 units proposed for the new Advanced Manufacturing Centre.

The Hethel centre has a strong record for creating skilled jobs and supporting business start-ups in innovative engineering. It has helped more than 55 start-up businesses which has in turn created more than 190 high skilled jobs, engaged with more than 11,000 students and has supported more than 5,700 businesses.

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Derrick Murphy, Leader of Norfolk County Council, said: 'Hethel Engineering Centre has an outstanding record in supporting innovative engineering and highly-skilled jobs - even in some of the toughest economic times anyone can remember.

'It is these high-end engineering-based businesses with high value jobs that promise a way forward for jobs and the local economy, and we must do all we can where possible to help them to succeed.

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'But in order to take the next step, we must find imaginative ways of supporting this innovative sector. As well as giving new start-ups every opportunity to get off the ground, this also means helping blossoming new businesses to build on their success so they can expand and contribute to what is becoming an important growth sector in Norfolk. By committing to provide this loan, we can try to attract European funding that will allow us to achieve our long-term growth ambitions for Norfolk.

'So, this would be another investment in the future of Norfolk; an investment in its people, its innovation capabilities as well as its ambition and determination to boost employment, secure economic growth and really establish Norfolk as an exciting county in which to do business.'

Should councillors approve the recommendation to give the loan the go-ahead at the Cabinet meeting, the Advanced Manufacturing Centre will offer existing start-up companies at Hethel Engineering Centre the opportunity to expand their business by moving into larger units. It will also offer them the security of long term tenancies.

The report outlines how the County Council's loan of �3.77 million would be subject to the approval of European funding, which will pay for 40pc of the building costs. Interest on the loan and repayment of the capital will be covered by future rental income at the centre.

The report also explains how Hethel is well placed to 'act as a catalyst' to drive business-led innovation activities, as well as 'act as the vehicle for bringing together small, medium and large businesses, as well as academia, to commercialise business ideas'.

The cabinet meeting will tale place on Monday, January 23 at 10.30am in the Edwards Room at County Hall. Members of the public are welcome to attend.

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