County Durham businesses are benefiting from increased employment and growth due to support received from a Business Durham programme. 

The Digital Drive County Durham initiative was launched in 2017 to help businesses to become more resilient, efficient and profitable and gain a competitive edge by using digital technology.

The programme provides free digital health checks, an ongoing series of events including workshops, one-to-one advice and access to grant funding to remove barriers to using digital technology and embed a culture of digital innovation. 

Over 400 businesses have already benefited from the scheme, from metal fabrications to music coaching enterprises.

The COVID-19 pandemic meant digital communication became even more important to many businesses and Digital Drive was able to quickly adapt and provide additional support to companies.  

A recent review of the first phase of the programme highlighted that 78.5% of businesses participating had either not invested in digital technology at all, or only invested in a minor way, in the 3 years before they contacted Digital Drive.

Following support through Digital Drive over half of businesses have now invested in additional digital technology. On average they have spent over £26,000 which equates to around £5.5 million across the 400+ businesses assisted.

Businesses supported by Digital Drive are forecasting to create around 1,156 new jobs by 2022.

Following the success of the first phase, Business Durham has now appointed UMi as the delivery partner for the next phase which will continue to encourage and support businesses across County Durham to invest in digital technology.

Phase two will include fast track grants of up to 40% for businesses, monthly networking events for Digital Drive participants, a team of local digital experts providing mentoring as part of mentoring events, and a virtual conference running each December, alongside a regular event programme of masterclasses, webinars and large events throughout the year.

Sarah Slaven, interim Managing Director at Business Durham, said: “We are so pleased to see over 400 businesses level up their digital technology skills and knowledge through Digital Drive County Durham.

“Now more than ever, businesses must be adaptable and we’re here to provide the practical support and resources to help them navigate the future through embedding a digital mindset.

“The impact of the first phase on employment and GVA figures is impressive, with an anticipated creation of over 1,000 new jobs and businesses supported by Digital Drive have seen three times more growth in employment than the average.

“We are now delighted to announce UMi as our delivery partner for the next phase of Digital Drive, having successfully delivered the first phase of Digital Drive.  With headquarters in Seaham, UMi understand the business base in the county.”

Metal Fabrication Systems, based at Hobson Industrial Estate company which provides bespoke fabrications to oil, gas and civil industries received advice and funding from Digital Drive.  The company has since been able to invest in new equipment resulting in increased turnover and staff.  

Commenting on the support received John Spence, Managing Director of Metal Fabrications Systems said: “The grant funding through Digital Drive has enabled us to move to the next level, and I am positive about future investment and the benefits it may bring.

“The advice and support we got from Digital Drive was absolutely fantastic. We would not hesitate to recommend it to other businesses”.

Cllr Carl Marshall, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for economic regeneration, said: “It’s fantastic to see that so many businesses across the county have already benefitted from Digital Drive scheme and the positive impact that is having on our economy and jobs creation in County Durham.

“Having a digital presence is more important than ever to helping a business to grow, particularly as we look to recover from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. As residents adapt the way they work, shop and travel, it’s vital that companies are able to connect to their customers digitally and build a competitive edge. As the scheme continues, I hope many more businesses take advantage of this support with their digital strategy and enjoy the benefits it provides.”  

Nicki Clark, Chief Executive of UMi, said: “We are delighted to have been entrusted with continuing to deliver the Digital Drive County Durham programme on behalf of Business Durham. It is a real testament to our team’s hard work.

“For over 13 years we have specialised in making it easier for individuals in over 400,000 businesses to do more and go further as a result. Doing more could be finding more customers, securing the right finance, creating more economic growth, attracting the best talent; whatever they need to achieve their ambitions. As a national business with offices based in County Durham winning this is real icing on the cake – the team get a real buzz out of making a difference, through the businesses they help in the communities where they live and work.”

Digital Drive County Durham is funded by the European Regional Development Fund, Business Durham and private investment. Business Durham is the economic development arm of Durham County Council.

For further information about Digital Drive Country Durham visit www.digitaldrivedurham.co.uk/