COMPANIES are being urged to exploit their position as key regional employers and raise their profile ahead of the biggest factory building project in the North-East.

Bosses at the Aycliffe Business Park Steering Group, in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, are urging firms' to strengthen their position before Japanese firm Hitachi begins its £70m train assembly plant on the site in 2015.

The park, which is the North-East's second largest industrial estate, currently houses more than 300 businesses and 10,000 workers at companies including Tetley, 3M and Lidl.

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Hitachi will employ 730 workers at Aycliffe after winning a £4.5bn order from the Department of Transport to build 596 carriages for the Intercity Express programme, and Andrew Steadman has already been promoted as development director to oversee the project.

The steering group is holding an event on Friday, February 1 encouraging existing Aycliffe companies to look at opportunities to expand ahead of Hitachi's arrival.

Kerina Clarke, chairwoman of Aycliffe Business Group, said: “The area is going from strength to strength and we want all businesses to benefit from that.”

The event takes place in the Xcel Centre, in Aycliffe Business Park, from 9.30am.