November 14, 2012 11:09 pm
From apple juice to watches, space equipment to aircraft landing gear, the Isle of Man’s manufacturing sector spans as wide a range as a country 10 times its size.
Making up 5 per cent of the economy and employing 3,000 people, the industry is enjoying the manufacturing resurgence worldwide. The island has an aerospace cluster, high-tech engineering businesses and a range of food and drink providers that are moving into exports.
The latest fillip came when its famous queen scallops were added to an EU list of more than 1,000 products whose names are protected by law.
Last year the Isle of Man “Queenie” won the UK Sustainable Seafood award after years in which Manx fishermen worked with the government to protect the marine environment. Now Brussels has added more protection for the Queenie by declaring it a “Protected Denomination of Origin”, joining Champagne and Parmesan.
The island has a growing reputation for food and drink: the Isle of Man Creamery’s cheese is widely available in UK supermarkets.
One of the latest is the Apple Orphanage company, which produces apple juice. Its founders William Faulds, 28, and Charlotte Traynor, 28, met at Leeds University.
Mr Faulds had returned to the family farm – which he claims has the “wettest field on the Isle of Man” – and started making juice from the small orchard his parents kept.
He and Ms Traynor then hit upon an innovative idea – to source more apples from hobby growers who had more than they needed. In return for the apples, they would receive bottles of juice.
Ms Traynor recalls: “The first time we did it, we had people queuing round the block to drop off their apples. We must have had 10 tonnes of fruit.”
For each 3kg, growers receive a 250ml bottle of juice. Many are single variety, such as the Andrew Johnson, only found on the island.
They made about 4,000 litres this year in a barn converted for the purpose and have planted their own orchard to scale up the business. It makes a profit, but not enough to support the pair, so they still live on the farm.
There are about 17 aerospace companies on the island, including Ronaldsway Aircraft Company and GE Aviation, which makes landing gear but has been put up for sale by its US owner.
Eddie Teare, treasury minister, notes: “The evidence of water on Mars was found by a piece of kit made on the island.”
Adrian Moore, head of manufacturing at the Department of Economic Development, says the businesses are linked with the UK through the North West Aerospace Alliance. Some have 20-year contracts with Rolls-Royce for its new Trent engines.
The next challenge is to ensure there are enough skilled engineers and the department is working with local employers to set up a training college. “There is a skills gap,” says Mr Teare. “We are trying to upskill the younger section of our community. There are jobs. It is matching those unemployed with the opportunities.”
Target Tools, a supplier of machine tools and parts, is a vital link in the supply chain, says Mr Moore.
Simon Radcliffe, director, co-founded it in 1994 to supply general engineering tools. But it has recently focused on aerospace, which accounts for 75 to 80 per cent of turnover.
“We have developed a lot of business in the UK. We have even sent tools to China for our customers,” he says. Government grants for capital assistance and a zero corporate tax rate compensate for high transport and power costs,” he says.
“There is great support for the industry on the island. If we have a problem we ring the ministry and can get straight through to somebody who can help.”
Bodystat, a maker of medical devices, has also grown with the help of government grants. Sakkie Meeuwsen, founder and chief executive, moved the business there from South Africa in 1990 in order to gain access to the European market. The machines can monitor the status of patients and are also used by athletes to measure their fat levels.
They are used by researchers looking for new drugs. Some hospitals and GPs are adopting smaller units for diagnostic tests. “I could analyse two patients with the same condition and tell you if one is going to die and the other not,” Mr Meeuwsen says. Having just built a new headquarters outside Douglas, he says the company is on the verge of rapid growth.
“I would not like to be running a small business in the UK. With all the red tape and health and safety it must be a nightmare.”
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