Cornwall’s cutting edge


The Duchy’s workforce has the skills to match the best, says Business Link innovation adviser John Tregaskes

If anything defines the fast-moving world we live in, it is that change is inevitable, rapid and irrevocable.

A regional economy can be like this. There was a time when Cornwall, some would say, was the very seat of the industrial revolution; it was all about tin and China clay. And then, when you looked again, every Cornish or industrial estate seemed to contain a business that was pushing at the boundaries to create new technologies.

“Cornwall’s pull is strong, attracting many back to launch and run their own businesses here and to further develop their careers in great surroundings”

John Tregaskes, as Cornish as his name suggests, is an innovation adviser for the Business Link Convergence service, which exists to help Cornwall’s most ambitious and innovative companies fulfil their potential in local, national and global markets.

An engineer by profession, Tregaskes focuses on helping Business Link’s Convergence clients with their operational and business issues. He has his own views on what has started to bring about Cornwall’s change.

“I think there has been a powerful mix of trends,” he says. “First, there has been the additional UK and European government spending that Cornwall has attracted. This has provided targeted support over the years, which today includes the Convergence programme.”

Tregaskes believes, though, that the development of traditional local skills in Cornwall’s workforce has been the single most important factor. “In the past many people used to leave the county for education or career purposes,” he continues.

“But Cornwall’s pull is strong, attracting many back to launch and run their own businesses here and to further develop their careers in great surroundings. And increasingly, there are educational opportunities and outstanding businesses here that can give them everything they’re looking for in their work-life balance.

One of these outstanding businesses is Truro’s Silvertree Engineering, which relocated to Cornwall some 16 years ago. This hi-tech development and manufacturing company is a national and international leader in the field of wireless temperature monitoring and data-logging, making a major contribution to public safety in healthcare, food, pharmaceutical, bio-tech and other sectors.

For sales manager Robin Proctor, a key strength of the company is the software and electronic engineering expertise of its primarily Cornish workforce. As he says, “A major goal for us is to thrive as a specialist manufacturer that provides excellent career opportunities for skilled people in Cornwall.”

Over at Liskeard, Qt Services MD Dave Marsh is particularly proud of the expertise of his local workforce. This has contributed to a number of design innovations to bring about radical performance improvements for the company’s 4X4 ‘Wildcat’ off-road vehicle, which is helping sell it to rallying enthusiasts across the world. “It’s our local people that are now helping the business to perform as well as the car,” he says.

Dr Tim Hamilton, founder and MD of Scientific Services Ltd, based in St Stephen near St Austell, is equally certain that it is the professionalism and knowledge of its people that have seen the company become the West Country’s largest asbestos analysis company and Cornwall’s only nationally accredited laboratory for microbiological water-testing.

He explains: “We do very specialist work that has important public health and legislative implications. For this reason, everybody in the company works to the highest standards they can achieve.”

According to Tregaskes, such businesses are only the tip of a very large iceberg in Cornwall.