LAMINATE worktop manufacturer Wilsonart has invested £750,000 in equipment at its factory in the region.

Wilsonart said it was investing the money in specialist machinery at its plant in Shildon, County Durham, to make it more competitive.

Globally, Wilsonart has an annual turnover of £1bn, and the Shildon factory contributes between £30m and £35m a year. It employs 115 people.

Financial director Paul Howell said he hoped the new machinery would help boost turnover.

He said: "It will allow us to step into different markets with our products.

"It replaces a machine we had previously which didn't have the same flexibility for our product range and volume

"We would anticipate looking for growth out of the investment. It is a little bit difficult to say how much at the moment, as it depends how things take off, but we could be taking a few extra million pounds."

Wilsonart manufactures decorative laminate for kitchen and office worktops, shelves and bathrooms.

The majority of sales from the Shildon factory are in the UK, with some exports.

Mr Howell said the product had to be manufactured close to its marketplace as it did not travel well, so competition with China was less of an issue for Wilsonart than it was for other manufacturers.

But he said the investment would help Wilsonart stay ahead of competition in the UK and Europe.

Wilsonart bought its Shildon factory from former Darlington Football Club chairman George Reynolds in 1998 for £43m.

Since Wilsonart took over, it has increased turnover each year.

Mr Reynolds' chipboard factory, in Shildon, which was unconnected with Wilsonart, was later sold to Vertex, a North-West company, which subsequently collapsed.