They said regenerate and people will come

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So I arrived in San Diego two days ago, after getting over my jet lag, I have had a little chance to explore the City yesterday and spent today working with some of the small businesses in the local area.

It was an eye-opener, to say the least.

The problems of the small businesses were absolutely no different to the problems faced by any of the businesses I have ever worked within the whole of the North East.

However, there was one big difference ……… CONFIDENCE

Every owner I met, 9 today, was confident in themselves, in where they lived and in their country as a whole. It really was ‘the American dream” writ large.

What astounded me more was from these people and other businesses owners I have had casual conversations with, how different in terms of background they were.

It really was a melting pot in terms of age, background, gender and ethnicity. So all though all were American citizens now, one was also a Somali- American, an American Indian and Hispanic-American, Men and women from ages 23 – 65.

Diverse backgrounds, diverse experiences and yet a common Confidence.


Then I started thinking about home, particularly Teesside (Tees Valley) and how similar some of the problems faced by San Diego were to us.

Now let me add, they have one big advantage to us, all year round sunshine, which is great to attract a tourist industry.

But things we had in common were:

They had a much larger neighbour, Los Angeles that seemed to take at one point all of the trade and all of the talent.

We have Newcastle

They had gone through a huge recession

So have we

Many of the local buildings had fallen into disrepair, through absentee landlords and poor local planning decisions

In Middlesbrough we used to have a majority Victorian town – can’t see much of it left at the moment

They have had a huge brain drain of the best talent moving either to the Los Angeles area or New York.

We lose the majority of our educated and talented individuals through a lack of opportunity.

A vast migrant population, predominately from next-door neighbour Mexico but also around the world.

We have had the largest influx of immigration into the Tees Valley since 1861.

So lots of similarities.

So how have they made it work?

They have built and built and continue to build, conference centres, hotels, marinas, boats, importing into the port and exporting to the world.

They have preserved – they have taken the existing building and found new uses or restored their old uses them. Through the forced acquisition, they have taken on the absentee landlords of buildings that have had no occupation or regeneration in the last five years. This has made landlords sit up and take notice.

They have stopped building outside of the city limits; there are fours malls outside and started to work with developers by reducing rates and building costs.

They have a mandatory recruitment focus of 80% local labour to receive these benefits for each of these development companies. If the company falls below this for more than a week a financial penalty is levied.

Most importantly, they have used local people to create local protection groups and each of these people can only sit on one of the protection groups, for the buildings, the parks or any other civic amenities.

These people don’t always get on, don’t always want the same things, but they have found a way to make it work. There are 43 groups assigned at the time of writing.

Each business when it starts is given 12 hours of support (funded) and then local city business chapters (paid for by the businesses in the same area) usually of around 50 businesses support each other.

It seems to be working.

Now I am pragmatic, we are doing wonderful things in the Tees Valley currently, things that San Diego could look at and say we should be doing that.

Things like the wonderful regenerated Stockton High Street and its amazing program of events.

The new Sports Village in Middlesbrough and Middlehaven

Darlington’s transformation in terms of the town and its surrounding areas.

Redcar with the Beacon, the swimming pool and the Hub

And Hartlepool with new business parks and regenerated areas.

But it’s not enough

We need a CONFIDENCE injection.

Our lack of confidence in ourselves, our towns and our area holds us back.

And yet we are fiercely proud, we live in an amazing area, with an abundance of good people who do want to do something, we have something to offer everyone, town, coast and countryside.

Maybe it’s time now for us all to say, enough. No more moaning, no more blaming, no more poor management of our assets. It’s time for all of us to come together, who’s onboard?