IF the region fails to capitalise on its subsea engineering expertise it risks missing out on a wave of jobs and investment that could lead its economic recovery, an industry expert told an audience of business leaders.  

Charles Tompkins was instrumental in the North-East becoming a subsea hotbed when he founded CTC Marine in Darlington in 1993.

CTC, now part of the international DeepOcean group, along with fellow pioneers such as Newcastles Wellstream and SMD of Wallsend, has grown from modest beginings into a business of world class repute. 

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Oil and gas contracts, and the massive potential for offshore renewables offered the North-East a "golden opportunity to become a powerhouse of subsea engineering," Mr Tompkins said at an investment seminar hosted by Brewin Dolphin at Rockliffe Hall. 

The subsea industry in the region now supports an estimated 10,000 jobs directly and across the supply chain, supplying everything from the manufacture and deployment of cables which connect wind turbines to the mainland, to remotely operated vehicles capable of digging trenches on the seabed.

"There are not many places in the world that have such a comprehensive skills and industrial environment as the North-East," explained Mr Tomkins, who said the region's three deepwater ports, as well as its skilled workforce, industrial heritage and high class training facilities gave it an advantage which few areas in the world could match.

He believed Durham Tees Valley Airport's connections to the oil and gas centre of Aberdeen, and links to Amsterdam were key.

He added: "In very broad terms, Tyneside has been the centre of manufacturing for this sector, and Teesside the centre for service, and I think that is the way it will stay by and large.

"It's fair to say that the subsea industry is something of a hidden gem within the region.

"But business is pretty simple. All you have to do is deliver something that people want. If you do that they will find you.

"The industry has grown well even though it is not as well known locally as it could be. But it is well known in the industry and the virtues of the North-East are starting to be realised globally.

"Success breeds success and people want to back a winner, which is what this industry is," added Mr Tomkins, as he warned that government policy on renewables, Scottish devolution and complacency, posed potential threats to the North-Easts' future success in the sector. 

Mr Tompkins noted how the region had lost its position as a world leader in industries such as shipbuilding because it had exported expertise but failed to innovate and invest. He was encouraged that the region's subsea firms possessed the tools for long term success.

"Technology to build the next generation is now happening here, so we've a sustainable industry capable of supporting thousands more jobs and making a significant contribution to the local economy."