A BUSINESS development organisation is pressing ahead with plans to attract more companies to the region and make the North-East a haven for start-up ventures, its new boss has told The Northern Echo.

Brian Archer says Business Durham is primed to help companies flourish by strengthening its property offering and ramping up finance and growth support.

His blueprint also includes an aspiration to bolster the number of new firms across the region and invest in burgeoning operators through a £20m programme to aid their expansion.

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The former FTSE 250 company boss took over at Business Durham late last year, and says the opportunities for growth are tangible, hailing companies’ “world-class” credentials.

Citing electronics firm Pragmatic’s expansion at NetPark, in Sedgefield, Mr Archer said he hopes to be the gatekeeper for further success.

He also confirmed his intention to use Business Durham’s Finance Durham fund to support companies’ growth, with investments ranging from £10,000 to up to £2m available.

“The first six months are all about understanding where we are,” said Mr Archer, who studied a certificate in business counselling at Durham University Business School and is a former FTSE 250 firm business development director.

“There is already a strong platform here, so it’s important not to throw the baby out with the bath water.

“But we need to build on our strengths and I hope I can bring some positive ideas from my experience in the private sector”, said Mr Archer, who replaced Dr Simon Goon as managing director of Business Durham, which operates as Durham County Council’s business division.

“The quality of the businesses that are already on the NetPark site is fantastic.

“Perhaps we are a little bit modest about our achievements and our assets in the North. Some of them are world-class and Pragmatic could be the next Intel.

“But it is not just about the knowledge intensive, glamourous, high-growth businesses.

There are a lot of really good companies involved in advanced manufacturing and engineering too.

“There is an opportunity for growth and we are not a drain on the council because we generate our own income as a commercial business.

“I would like to see us strengthen the property portfolio and strengthen the Business Durham brand, and I’d like us to make it easier for businesses to access the services they need too.

“I’d also like to think we will have made some investments through the Finance Durham fund in some high-growth businesses.”

Mr Archer, originally from Leeds, worked at Marks and Spencer upon leaving school before founding a food retailer and wholesaler, which he sold in 1989.

Reflecting on his experiences as the person “wondering how we are going to pay the wages”, Mr Archer said he wants to use his new role to instil confidence in businesspeople to follow their dreams, which, in turn, will improve the survival rate of start-up endeavours.

“Having set up and run my own business, I’ve got an insight and awareness of the challenges they face”, said Mr Archer, who has also been chief executive of two Business Links and commercial director of Leeds City College Group.

“I learned some very valuable lessons and there’s no substitute for having been there and done it.

“I know what it feels like to be sat on the staircase at 3am wondering how we are going to pay the wages the following day.

"Life isn’t just about cash revenue and EBIT – it is about changing lives and making a difference.

“I still had that hankering for innovation and business support, and when the opportunity at Business Durham arose I snapped it up.

“When I was young, I wanted to change the world, but when I got older I realised it was easier to change myself.

“It’s important for people to be the author of their own destiny.”