HUNTINGDONSHIRE continues to weather the economic storm in a way other parts of the UK will envy. That is not to say that the district has proved immune to the downturn, according to Huntingdonshire District Council, which stands behind all The Hunts Post

HUNTINGDONSHIRE continues to weather the economic storm in a way other parts of the UK will envy.

That is not to say that the district has proved immune to the downturn, according to Huntingdonshire District Council, which stands behind all The Hunts Post Huntingdonshire Business Awards 2009.

But the diversity of the local economy has minimised the impact on local jobs, and Business Link East, the Government-sponsored advisory service, is seeing a wealth of new start-ups as people whose jobs are at risk or redundant set up on their own account with specialist skills and reduced overhead costs.

With small companies, many of them sole traders, accounting for 90 per cent of employment in Huntingdonshire, it is easy to understand why the prospect of starting a new company holds few fears for folk in the district. Provided that they seek the advice they need - most of which is provided from by HDC or Business Link - they are likely to be as good as their business plan and their still-reluctant bankers can make them

Corrine Garbett, who recently took over the council's policy and economic development brief after several years at the coal-face of economic development, explained: "Unemployment figures and business closures are certainly up, but there are a number of business success stories too.

"The district is experiencing growth. Investment in infrastructure, housing and new business premises can be seen across the district. The market towns of Huntingdon and St Neots have been identified as future employment and housing growth areas, and plans are being developed to improve the town centre facilities.

"Ramsey has a new mixed employment and housing development planned for the west of the town, including the development of a new Tesco store, and St Ives will soon have an improved transport provision with the development of the guided bus."

Indeed, business park developers see the arrival of the guided bus in late summer as a magnet to attract employers from Cambridge to less expensive premises in St Ives - provided that Cambridgeshire County Council and the bus operators play ball over extending existing public transport links and provide safe pedestrian and cycle access to the new business parks.

Growth sectors for the district include manufacturing, creative industries and hi-tech industries, HDC planners believe.

"The district is attracting significant investment from the likes of Defence Estates, the property arm of the Ministry of Defence, which is set to base its international operations at RAF Wyton, creating 430 jobs in the process," Mrs Garbett said.

"Xaar, the inkjet company, has confirmed that this region will be a direct beneficiary of its Swedish manufacturing base, with 100 jobs to be created at its Huntingdon plant, Lola with its plans to move into formula one racing, and an estimated 250 jobs are forecast to be created at the new £10 million second phase of the St Ives Business Park due to be completed in autumn 2009 are more encouraging signs.

"On the High Street there are is also positive news. Fat Face has come to St Ives creating six new jobs. In Huntingdon, two new wine shops have recently opened, as well as a furniture shop and a bridal-wear shop. In Ramsey, two new pet shops and a traditional sweet shop have opened... to name but a few of the recently established retail outlets. Indeed, in late 2008/early 2009 at least eight new retail businesses opened in Huntingdon and at least three businesses were refurbished."

She added: "Sustainable economic development at HDC continuously strives to encourage more investment to the district. Examples of some of their projects include developing marketing materials to promote our market towns, the development of the CreativExchange building in St Neots, designed to encourage entrepreneurship in the district; a feasibility study is also currently being commissioned to determine the viability and suitability of establishing a business enterprise centre in Ramsey."

But she stressed that the team was also dedicated to finding ways to help businesses struggling in the economic downturn.

CONTACT: Corrine Garbett can be contacted through 01480 388388.