Hunts firms lead ‘fragile’ manufacturing recovery

WITH manufacturers in Eastern England reporting strong recovery in recent months, some Huntingdonshire companies have been particularly successful.

WITH manufacturers in Eastern England reporting strong recovery in recent months, some Huntingdonshire companies have been particularly successful.

But, without continued support for manufacturers, the recovery could still be fragile, according to business leaders.

Manufacturing figures released last Wednesday show that output increased by 0.3 per cent between June and July 2010, with the industry experiencing 4.9 per cent growth compared to the same month a year ago. According to the Office of National Statistics, this is the strongest picture since December 1994.

John Bridge, chief executive of Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce, said: “This month’s figures will give many local manufacturers a welcome boost.

“But let’s be realistic: the recovery is not yet secure, particularly as there are worrying signs of a slowdown in the global economy. While UK manufacturers are currently enjoying the benefits of a competitive exchange rate, capitalising on these benefits may be much harder in the months ahead.

“It is important to support the manufacturing recovery as the sector’s progress remains critical to the much-needed rebalancing of the UK economy towards exports and investment.”

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But despite the more positive short-term view, the forecast also predicted that the pace of growth will slow sharply over the medium-term as the coalition Government’s tough deficit-reduction measures kick in, the chambers said.

The relative weakness of sterling has worked well for Huntingdon-based top-end audio and cinema manufacturer Meridian Audio, which has seen sales grow on average by 12 per cent in the past year, as the company has focused on emerging export markets.

As the rich-list grows rapidly among new capitalists in countries such as India, China and Russia, so do the opportunities for manufacturers of quality British products, according to Meridian’s chief marketing officer Graeme Taylor.

That explains why he is opening shops in Kuwait, New Delhi and Bangalore this week, Mexico next week, and Moscow and St Petersburg the following week.

“We’re trying to take a truly global view, and our success helps to secure the employment of around 100 people here in Huntingdon, where everything is designed and manufactured.

“Although, sadly, we had to let some people go a while back, we have recently recruited a couple of new people,” he said.

Successes include the launch of a new �10,000-plus CD player, for which there is already a six-week order book. “We just can’t build them quickly enough.”

Although Meridian has severed its connection with Ferrari (so the compact F80 audio system has become the �1,500 leather-clad M80), it has done a deal with McLaren Automotive to supply the audio equipment for its new multi-millionaires-only sports car.

And Mr Taylor will not yet reveal the identity of the premium British car manufacturer with which a deal is set to be announced at the Paris Motor Show early next month.

Also on the crest of an export wave is Huntingdon’s Pursuit Dynamics. Hard on the heels of a raft of contracts in North America, the company has secured an initial deal with major German brewer Oettinger to install a new PDX brewing system at its huge Braunschweig brewery. Pursuit is confident that its product will also be deployed at the rest of the customer’s breweries in the course of the next year.

The Encocam group of seven composites-to-motorcycles divisions, based in Blackstone Road, Huntingdon, is doing similarly well, particularly in export markets for its core businesses in crash barriers and aluminium honeycomb products.

At 20 per cent above last year’s performance, the group is even ahead of its target, said managing director Mike Ashmead, who founded the original company, Cellbond Composites, in 1988.

Although foreign exchange rates and the downturn in the domestic economy have depressed the Zingbikes division, which imports and improves inexpensive motorcycles from China, Dr Ashmead hopes to expand the dealership base from around 40 to 200 in the coming year.

“Sales have kept up, but we need to be much higher. We are on the right track and, because we are doing well in export, we can afford to invest in things like this,” he said. The group has already expanded its Huntingdon premises and hopes to extend further to accommodate growth.

It is also within sight of launching a (very) small car, capable of fuel economy in excess of 100 miles per gallon, and is forging ahead with architectural products developed from the original composites business.

It is also developing energy absorbing products for luxury car maker Aston Martin.