Summer 2021 – An Update from Vice Chair - Philip Mitchell

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(Last Updated On: July 27, 2021)

The Torbay Hi-Tech Cluster (THTC) has grown significantly during the past 18 months. Although the Torbay leisure and tourism industry has been hit by the global pandemic, the hi-tech industry has been able to continue relatively unaffected, successfully adapting to new restrictive national and international working practices. The hub of the THTC is the Electronics Photonics and Innovation Centre (EPIC) based in Paignton, centrally located within Torbay and the hi-tech community.

EPIC is, as the name suggests, a centre full of talented technologists, scientists, engineers, and visionaries, turning bright ideas into world class commercial products competing with the best in the world. EPIC now has 70% occupancy, a 35% increase during the past challenging 18 months. EPIC has welcomed companies such as Spanish-owned Nanusens, specialising in MEMS technology.

The clients are a mix of established organisations, new highly motivated small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups. What all these companies have in common is a unique product developed from new revolutionary ideas, innovative processes, and a passion for collaboration with others within EPIC and the THTC network.

The wide range of technical expertise working daily within the THTC is inspiring and commensurate with any other technical community elsewhere in the UK, EU, and globally. The cluster includes micro-electronics, photonic, nano-positioning systems, micro-electronic mechanical systems, quantum technology research, micro-wave, secure radio systems, satellite global positioning and more besides.

To complement these hi-tech organisations, we have our supply chain partners, including talent acquisition, to identify and attract those with the right credentials to come and join the cluster in Torbay. In addition, during the height of the pandemic our academic partner South Devon College (SDC) worked closely with the cluster in developing and delivering courses specific to the cluster, and in some cases delivered by cluster veterans passionate to share their knowledge and experiences. Really encouraging to see academia and industry working together.

Although the pandemic prohibited face to face meetings, many conferences became virtual on-line. The THTC successfully presented at this year’s international Optical Fibre Conference 2021 (OFC-2021), and the Mobile World Congress (MWC-2021), and others. Announcing latest technology advances achieved here in the bay, holding their own against the best of the global competition.

Post Brexit, as the UK positions itself as a global industrial power outside of the EU, the THTC has continued to grow and has already been acknowledged as a technology hub benefitting from national government support and has recently twice been successful in obtaining funding from The Heart of the South West (HotSW) Local Enterprise Partnership ERDF grant scheme to support further THTC opportunities, including expansion. In addition to this, EPIC and South Devon College were successful in securing £1M from the government’s Getting Building Fund to support development of technical capabilities at both sites.

The Photonics Leadership Group (PLG) have recently announced that the UK photonics industry grew during 2020 to become a £14.5 billion industry. As highlighted by the PLG,the photonics industry has a total gross value added to the economy of £6.5 billion and £85,000 per employee. UK photonics is now the 5th most productive manufacturing sector in the UK. The PLG forecast that with continuing adaptation and increased demand across applications from food, health, communications, defence and manufacturing and the initial adoption of quantum products, photonics will grow to over a £16bn industry by 2022.

Other encouraging local developments include, as reported by local media early in July, that TDA has submitted a bid to secure up to £20Million from the Government’s Levelling Up Fund to accelerate economic growth here in the bay. Part of the bid proposes a new Electronics and Photonics Production Park including a new purpose built 2,040m² production centre to accommodate the expansion of the cluster, providing specialist production facilities, deepening innovation, enabling the growth of key businesses in the sector and creating around 175 high value jobs in the local area and £18 million GVA. For those of a certain age something of this size hasn’t been seen since the 1990s. The TDA is expecting to learn the outcome of the application in the autumn.

As the THTC has grown during the past 18 months, it has also become an influential collaborator with other established hubs around the UK and a specialist contributor and advisor to UK business support organisations including the South West Manufacturing Network and the HoTSW Business Leadership Group. The THTC also has direct links with local and national government organisations. Totnes and South Hams elected MP Antony Mangnall has recently accepted the role of co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Photonics and Quantum which is good news to have an influential local MP familiar with the work of the THTC.

The upcoming months will be very busy with both EPIC and our cluster exhibiting at both Photonex and Photonics West International trade shows. We are also looking forward to welcoming international delegations from both Turkey and Norway who are looking to join our ever-growing cluster.

So, the future is looking bright for the THTC and its partners. This is certainly a good time to get involved and develop a career or a business involved in technology, or supporting the cluster in some other way, and become part of the Torbay hi-tech explosion, contributing to the wealth and rich history of innovation of the bay.

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