THE opening of Hitachi's train factory can be a catalyst for regional manufacturing, says a County Durham task force.

Businesses are being asked to take part in a survey developed in conjunction with senior industrialists, to help the task force gain an overview of the businesses’ expertise, potential areas for growth and expansion opportunities.

Manufacturing is already a vital part of the County Durham economy and employs 15 per cent of residents, providing 20 per cent of its GVA (gross value added).

The task force was set up to advise on an industrial strategy for the county to help inform how Durham County Council should allocate funds to ensure the best economic impact.

It’s a public/private sector partnership, with senior business leaders from manufacturing companies ensuring the sectors’ needs are met and it draws on the success of firms such as Gestamp Tallent, Caterpillar and NSK Bearings.

Councillor Neil Foster, Cabinet member for economic regeneration and chair of the task force, said: “The opening of Hitachi’s new rail factory is a fantastic opportunity for County Durham and the North-East. We know that there will be many further chances for companies based here to win investment and secure contracts and plenty more inward investors to be part of the Durham success story.

"We now need the help of companies to give us information so we can provide them with the best help and support.

"Gaining insight into business strengths and areas for growth and improvement is vital for maximising opportunities for expansion and diversification. If we can gather this data from as many manufacturing companies as possible we can spot emerging trends and chances for collaboration to win more contracts and investment.”

Simon Goon, managing director of Business Durham, said: “We’re delighted to build on the success of the Hitachi opening and Durham is well placed to attract further investment.

"Manufacturing companies are more likely to engage in research and development, innovation and exports. They are more inclined to pay workers more and are more resilient and productive than the UK’s economic base as a whole. There are many manufacturing success stories here already and we’re looking forward investigating ways we can provide a further boost for this sector."