The Process of Teamwork.
NEPIC represents 30% of the industrial economy of the North East of England and its members produce over half the ~£12 billion exports of this region, which itself is the last remaining net exporting region in England. You can bet, then, that when NEPIC talks, others listen.
Created in the mid-1990s by leaders from the process industry to be a forum for real collaboration, the North East of England Process Industry Cluster – better known as NEPIC – is both strong and strongly supported. A true local organisation, it is owned by its 400 (and growing) member companies and is designed to be a unified and amplified ‘voice of the industry’, important in an often under-valued and misunderstood sector.
The process industry is the powerhouse sector of the region, employing 34,000 people across 500 companies. Together with its supply chain, the sector consists of 1,400 STEM related companies. With 58% of the UK’s petrochemical industry based in NE England, as well as producing 35% of the country’s pharmaceutical GDP, NEPIC represents a significant proportion of the UK chemistry based industries, which in themselves underpin £730 billion of the UK’s £850 billion other industrial sectors.
NEPIC’s members encompass chemical, petrochemical, polymer, specialty chemical, fine chemical, pharmaceutical, biotechnology, composites, bioresources, biofuels, and renewable materials and energy companies. Over the years,NEPIC has grown and developed into one of the UK’s key economic cluster bodies. Despite 70% of its members being SMES, it is credited with delivering more than £1 billion Gross Value Added to the NE and UK economy within a six-year period by assisting over 133 companies with their growth objectives.
At the helm is the candid Dr Stan Higgins. With 40 years’ experience in process industries across the world, Stan is well placed to lead the charge.Stan began his career in the nuclear industry before studying chemistry, economics and technology at York University. As an undergraduate, he had some new ideas in the field of Mechanistic Organic Chemistry that resulted in the university awarding him a PhD in record time. After a period in medicinal chemistry, process development and technical support and manufacturing in pharmaceuticals, with Reckitts and then Glaxo, Stan gained multi-plant management experience in speciality commodity chemicals with AKZO. He went on to be Technical then Managing Director of fine chemical company PEBOC, which won several industrial awards, including two Queen’s Awards to Industry for Export Growth and Technology Development.
After divesting PEBOC from Solvay to Eastman, Stan worked in Tennessee, USA as Eastman’s Fine Chemicals’ Manufacturing Director. On returning to the UK, hewas appointed Technical Director of Laporte Fine Chemicals, responsible for research andmanufacturing, before being appointed CE of NEPIC in 2004. In 2010, he was nominated as EU Cluster Manager of the Year from 600 recognised clusters across Europe, adding to awards already gained for improving communications with industry stakeholders.
Open, two-way communication is at the heart of NEPIC’s ethos. Says Stan,
“We use all types of communication routes and have won national wards for the level of engagement that we have created. Not least our website, portal, quarterly magazine, annual directory, and technical and social networking meetings, attended by more than 2,500 delegates each year.”
NEPIC is working to improve productivity and efficiency, continuously updating the infrastructure of this industrial locality, informing stakeholders and growing the skills base. Its members cooperate through the cluster to promote the region’s capabilities as well as the capability of individual member companies. All of this is aimed at the rejuvenation and growth of these key hi-tech advanced manufacturing industries, while leading them into a sustainable future.
Of course, NEPIC can only do so much in the face of current tough economic times. Member companies face a number of challenges, many of which are not specific to the process and related industries: energy pricing; a shortage of skilled labour; high levels of government intervention through regulation; and access to finance are common distress calls. But Stan is undeterred:
Through NEPIC, our members are lobbying on these issues and working on collaborative projects to ameliorate the impacts. Companies are not alone, and working through NEPIC they have a bigger, more effective voice.”