FROM Formula One steering wheel parts to feeding footballers ice cream, Tees Valley businesses are delivering innovative and important products and services.

"In the past year, I have been along to 52 companies across the Tees Valley – and met representatives from many more - and each time I’m proud and inspired by what they do," said Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen.

"There have been some huge, headline-grabbing announcements in 2018 but, as a former businessman myself, I have made it my mission not to overlook companies of all sizes that represent the graft and creativity that makes our area great.

"From developing products used in racing cars and publishing hit video games to nutritional gelato, running transport networks and training fire crews across the globe, we’re making waves for what we produce, develop and provide.

"These are the job-creators, innovators, entrepreneurs and risk-takers that make our region special and, big or small, long-standing or new starters, they are doing wonders for the economy."

Hartlepool’s Merlin Flex is a leading global supplier of flexible interconnection systems. That might not mean much to the average person, but its circuit boards had been used in Sebastian Vettel’s F1 steering wheel when he won the world championships, Eurofighter pilot helmets and the Pepper robot, which can recognise human emotions.

Middlesbrough video game firm Double Eleven, which has published big-name titles such as Lego Harry Potter as well as cult hits like Goat Simulator – which has sold millions of copies around the world.

There's also Cubic’s Global Operations Centre in Thornaby, which is using computers for a very different reason – running city-wide transportation projects in New York and Sydney.

If that wasn’t enough, they are also behind contactless travel ticketing systems such as London’s Oyster card.

"Like many of the companies I see, Cubic is committed to growth, recently announcing it was going to create more than 100 new jobs in the region," said Mr Houchen.

"Also looking to expand is the smaller outfit the Yorkshire Gelato Company, in Redcar. As well as delicious ice cream for hotels and restaurants, it has thought outside of the box to develop Proteina, the UK’s first nutritional gelato fortified with 24 vitamins and minerals.

"This has proved such a hit, my beloved Boro serves it up to the playing squad as part of their strict diet."

"Then there are the life-saving organisations such as the International Fire Training Centre, which trains 10,000 people from across the world every year on how to fight aviation fires.

"Located at our airport, it has worked with customers such as Nato and the UN, and in 2017 won the Queen’s Award for Export, which recognises its incredible achievements in exports and to the international reputation of the UK.

"These are some of the fascinating, inventive, game-changing companies I’ve had the pleasure of touring over the past 12 months.

"But I know there are many more success stories who are talking up Tees Valley for me to discover – so roll on 2019."