STAN Higgins disappears from the room with a purpose in his stride.


He returns just seconds later with a smile on his face.

Tucked under his arm is a copy of the Official Journal of the Indian Chemical Council.

The magazine, its front cover highlighting an in-depth report on an annual conference, however, has seen better days, with pages torn from their binding.

“I’m the only foreign correspondent”, says Dr Higgins, who speaks with alacrity as he flicks through the glossy production to find his column on trade missions.

“And I’ve probably written about 150 articles around the world for trade magazines and things like that too.”

Dr Higgins is chief executive at the North East Process Industry Cluster (Nepic), which supports the region’s chemical-using operators and the supply chain.

Nepic’s roots lie in a desire to build on the region’s powerful industrial base, and as Dr Higgins says, “the rejuvenation and growth of the sector.”

But that drive is not confined to Teesside nor is it limited at the UK’s borders.

It is a global crusade, hence Dr Higgins’ writings for the Indian Chemical Council’s Chemical News publication.

He said: “The Indian chemical industry came to us and asked them to help them internationalise their market.

“But the partnership enables the local supply chain to work in India and a lot of companies are getting that advantage.

“We are so well-known in India and we are more than partners; we are like a married couple really.”

Dr Higgins has spearheaded Nepic since its inception in the early 2000s, following the merger of the Teesside Chemical Initiative, based at Wilton, near Redcar, and the then recently formed Pharmaceutical and Speciality Cluster.

It has since grown into one of the UK’s key industry-led economic cluster bodies, with an impressive back catalogue of accomplishments.

Dr Higgins, who was a plant manager by the time he was 31, can remember its progress with crystal clarity, so much so that his notepad, which sits open in front of him on the desk, goes without consultation.

He can also recall those early days and how Nepic has, from its very beginnings, worked to help the sector grow, while disproving conceptions about the industry’s apparently diminishing future.

He refers to a regional development agency study, which pointed towards firms’ potential across the region and a requirement to unite the North-East.

He said: “The study identified a number of companies and the need to bring together the expertise of Teesside, Tyneside and Wearside.

“That is what Nepic has done.

“Our remit was how do we grow and rejuvenate the sector?

“That has been our theme since 2003 and continues to be our aim now and right from the beginning it has been about understanding how to attract investments to the region.

“We have built as a leading cluster for the chemical industry and have landed 95 investments worth well over £4bn and more than 5,000 jobs.”

But things are changing.

At the start of the month, Dr Higgins revealed he will retire from his post in the summer.

The 63-year-old’s announcement came as a shock but he says the timing is right on a number of levels, none more so than allowing a new leader, with fresh ideas and outlook, to continue taking Nepic forward.

However, he’ll not be cutting his ties all at once – what would you expect of a man who has devoted his working life to the chemical sector?

Dr Higgins was at the helm when fine chemical firm Peboc Limited picked up two Queen’s Awards for export and technology and also enjoyed directorships at Peboc, Eastman Fine Chemicals, Laporte Fine Chemicals and James Robinson Limited.

In 2014, he was honoured by the European Commission and awarded the European Union Cluster Manager of the Year title.

Such experience cannot and shouldn’t be ignored.

“I’ve got this dream of lowering my handicap”, says the Seaton Carew Golf Club member of his future, his smile growing wider at the prospect of more time out on the fairways.

“In all seriousness though, we have kept this business in surplus since its inception, with all profits being directed into activities to promote and grow the process industries in the North-East and the new chief executive will have a great time.

“If the new person wants any help I will be there to provide that.

“It is the right time for me and the right time for Nepic.”