OVER the next two weeks we count down the 20 most important business stories of 2015. PART ONE 20 TO 11. 

20. CLEVELAND Bridge is steeped in history.

Dating back 138 years, the group has built and been involved with some of the world’s most iconic crossings, from the Sydney Harbour Bridge, in Australia, to Middlesbrough’s Transporter Bridge and the Tyne Bridge, in Newcastle.

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However, the Darlington firm added another chapter to its story when securing a lucrative deal to send hundreds of bridges to Sri Lanka, to help communities in jungle and rural areas.

Closer to home, the company’s structures have supported the widening of the A1 road, between Leeming and Barton, North Yorkshire.

19. SUBSEA firm DeepOcean UK, in Darlington, endured a wretched start to 2015.

The tumbling oil price, allied to what it claimed was Government dithering over provision of UK work to British companies, forced it to shed nearly a third of its North-East workforce.

Bosses always told The Northern Echo the situation was cyclical, and they have been proven correct.

It is now hiring engineers and graduates and its order book is healthy, and has a contract to dig trenches and install cables for a wind farm based off the Norfolk and Lincolnshire coasts.

The firm will also oversee trenching and cable installation in the Irish Sea, and go Down Under to carry out trenching and surveying.

18. THE opening of a new family-friendly complex that features a climbing wall and trampolines wouldn’t normally be a job for the Echo business desk, but ROF 59 is no ordinary place.

Aycliffe Business Park was founded on buildings that were wartime munitions factories.

When John Finley bought one of these buildings a couple of years ago to expand his steelwork business he had no idea it would unearth some amazing family secrets. The former Presswork Metals factory, built in the early 1940s to manufacture bombs and bullets for the war effort, had stood empty for more than six years before Finley’s began to convert it. While work took place Mr Finley discovered that his mother, grandmother, and aunties had been among the munitions factory workers who became known as the Aycliffe Angels. That prompted a change of plan and instead of a new factory he created a community facility that includes walls stripped back to reveal signs of the building’s wartime heritage. “I was going to knock the walls down and build separate units, but I thought – you can’t do that. This is a special place and you have to keep this as it is,” said Mr Finley.

17. THE North-East’s steel industry endured a miserable year, but earlier in 2015, there was a semblance of optimism as US billionaire Gary Klesch continued takeover talks for Tata Steel’s Long Products business.

Mr Klesch spent months poring over the deal, leading to fears over hundreds of jobs at the division, which has bases at Lackenby, near Redcar, and Skinningrove, east Cleveland.

Mr Klesch always said those worries were unfounded and he was proved right – even if his prophecy came in a somewhat unexpected way.

The former steel mill electrician suddenly walked away, saying the Government wasn’t doing enough to protect jobs, by failing to stop Chinese imports and take action on crippling energy prices.

Heading into 2016, the long-term future of Long Products remains unclear.

16. DESPITE being dogged by union claims of wage undercutting, work progressed unhindered on the £250m Merseyside Energy Recovery waste-to-energy plant at Wilton, near Redcar.

While bosses categorically denounced unions’ claims, saying all pay structures met national agreements, their staff got on with construction.

The factory is due to open next year and is expected to convert hundreds of thousands of tonnes of household waste into electricity and steam.

Providing about 50 permanent jobs, it has handed a lifeline to former SSI staff, with 15 ex-steelworkers looking forward to a bright future in operational and maintenance posts.

15. WHAT is the Northern Powerhouse?

We started the year asking that question and 12 months later we are still not sure if the phrase that was cooked up by George Osborne's speech writers has crystallised into much that we can see or touch.

Ok, so we now have James Wharton, who after the General Election was given the grandiose title Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government with responsibility for the Northern Powerhouse. The Stockton South MP seemed to think the Echo was running a campaign to discredit him when we questioned what tangible benefits the Powerhouse would bring to North-East people.

So far it seems to have been a catch-all term that gets pinned to success stories but distances itself when bad things happen, such as the hundreds of lay-offs at the Air Products site or following the collapse of SSI.

Perhaps the arrival of Lord Heseltine, who has been parachuted in to help attract investment into the area, will, as the NECC asked following last month's Autumn Statement, "put some meat of the bones of the Northern Powerhouse".

14. IT was a cold and misty morning in March when The Northern Echo met Jan Kjærsgaard at the former Tag Energy Solutions plant, in Haverton Hill, near Billingham.

There was a black cloud handing over the factory after it was mothballed when Tag’s order book thinned.

However, Mr Kjærsgaard soon lifted the mood with a plethora of bold claims.

In the region to speak to the paper about Offshore Structures (Britain), a venture between Danish steel contractor Bladt Industries and German steel firm EEW Special Pipe Constructions, he revealed how it would transform the site into a thriving hub for wind turbine parts.

The plant officially re-opened in September, and now employs nearly 100 people, with 300 expected to be on board by the middle of next year.

It has contracts to make transition pieces, which sit upon turbine monopiles and include platforms, boat landing areas and cable housing, for wind farms in Liverpool Bay and off the Cumbrian coast, with further deals are expected in 2016.

13. FAMILY-RUN manufacturer Ebac officially unveiled its £7m washing machine production line – and exclusively told The Northern Echo they could be joined by fridge-freezers and tumble dryers.

The company, based in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, is due to start producing washers in earnest next month, and already has a deal with retailer Currys to stock models.

However, speaking in August, Pamela Petty, group managing director, said other products could be targeted to build on its status as the UK’s only washer maker.

She said: “I see no reason why we cannot make all the white goods people need here in the North-East.

“I would like to think in a few years we could be making things like fridge-freezers and tumble dryers.”

In November, the company received Royal acclaim for its efforts, when the Duke of Kent toured its factory.

12. STANHOPE’S Cook Defence Systems quietly went about its business in 2015, but when bosses spoke up, they did so in the grandest of ways.

The County Durham tank track maker secured a £70m Ministry of Defence deal, which will keep the Army rolling on.

The four-year contract will support more than 100 existing jobs and potentially create more posts, with its tracks due to be used on the 62-tonne Challenger tank, as well as the Warrior and Scimitar fighting vehicles.

For Andrew Cook, the company’s chairman, keeping UK work in the hands of British firms was essential.

“The metro-centric elite sometimes express surprise there is still a manufacturing industry in England”, he said.

“But the UK has to keep it in the family.”

11. WHEN the Department for Education snubbed a bid for a university technical college (UTC) in Aycliffe, some may have been forgiven for assuming that was the end of the matter.

But, after successfully reviving the submission, the University of Sunderland is now watching on contractor Willmott Dixon builds the £10m South Durham UTC.

A landmark was reached in late October when the first lengths of steel, supplied from Middlesbrough and Thirsk, North Yorkshire, began to rise from the ground.

The UTC will open next September and concentrate on teaching youngsters between 14 and 19-years-old, who will gain technical qualifications in a business environment.

It is being supported by Aycliffe-based train builder Hitachi Rail Europe and car chassis maker Gestamp Tallent, who both need the next generation of staff.