Prince Charles visits Middleport Pottery: 'There's a lot in Stoke-on-Trent to be proud of'
THE industrial landscape may have changed beyond all recognition during the last 30 years or so but, rest assured, we still make stuff around these parts.
What's more, we can be very proud of what this area's manufacturing and production base produces because it's either cutting edge, world-leading or top quality – often all three.
• GALLERY: Middleport Pottery
From exquisite and inspirational ceramics to engineering excellence and fine foods, North Staffordshire continues to innovate and diversify.
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There is a yin-and-yang-like combination of 'old industry' which is innovating and diversifying and new businesses which are blazing a trail.
Regardless of the economic downturn and despite having the regeneration rug pulled from under them, firms in the Potteries and the wider sub-region have rolled up their sleeves and are fighting hard.
It may come as a surprise to outsiders, but manufacturing in North Staffordshire remains a huge employer and has a key role to play as the area looks to a brighter future.
Heading up our list of the great and good are six of the best which underline why Stoke-on-Trent remains the world capital of ceramics.
Between 2002 and 2007 the ceramic industry locally lost 50 companies and 5,000 jobs.
However, the firms that remain are diversified, yet focused manufacturing operations that have identified clear niches to enjoy profits while retaining employment in the city.
They are the manufacturing equivalents of juggernaut lorries with the ability to deliver large-scale orders while being able to turn on a 10-pence piece to meet urgent orders.
Steelite International, which employs around 800 people, is one such firm which goes from strength to strength. It is a relative newcomer to the top table – established as it was in 1983.
The last accounted turnover for the firm was £66.25 million (up 9.41 per cent) in the year ending December 2011, compared with £60.6 million during the previous 12 months.
During that period Steelite's pre-tax profit was £7.914 million.
Focusing on the premium tableware market for hotels and restaurants, the Middleport firm this month completed its takeover of iconic British brand Royal Crown Derby.
Steelite is living proof that the Made In England back stamp still carries great kudos.
Pottery firm Emma Bridgewater was established two years after Steelite and has grown to employ around 200 people at its factory in Lichfield Street, Hanley.
Last year the company, run by Emma and her husband Matthew Rice, enjoyed a huge sales lift thanks to themed ware marking the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics.
The couple have endeared themselves to the people of the Potteries through their philanthropic work and last year earned honorary degrees from Staffordshire University for their services to ceramics and the local community.
While Emma Bridgewater's stunning designs might have become trendy in recent years, the Dudson name has endured for so long that it seems impervious to fashions and fads.
The 200-year-old, eighth-generation family firm survived the restructuring of the ceramic industry by focusing on hotelware sector and employs more than 400 people at its headquarters in Scotia Road, Tunstall.
Pottery manufacturer Portmeirion is on track to report record sales. The company expects to report revenues of more than £55 million for the year ended December 31, 2012, approximately three per cent above last year.
Churchill China is similar to Portmeirion in that it combines the manufacture of premium hotelware with consumer brands, extending into areas such as bespoke glassware.
In August, the company, which employs 520 people in Sandyford unveiled a 22 per cent rise in half-year profits.
The Sandyford tableware specialist posted pre-tax profits of £841,000 for the six months to June 30 – up from £689,000 during the same period the previous year. Finally, there's pottery giant Wedgwood which has unveiled multi-million pound plans to redevelop its Barlaston base.
In June of last year The Sentinel exclusively revealed that the firm's parent company WWRD was planning a £25 million investment in its Barlaston works – three years after buying Wedgwood out of administration.
The money will create new, 'state-of-the-art' manufacturing facilities, expand and upgrade the Wedgwood 'visitor experience', safeguard 500 existing jobs and create more than 100 new ones.
Away from the ceramic industry, Hanley-based specialist engineering firm Goodwin is probably the best-kept secret in manufacturing innovation in the city.
The company, which employs 600 people, was founded in 1883 and started out as a foundry.
While still operating a foundry at its headquarters, the firm now has interests in making valves used in oil pipelines, radar dishes used in coastal defence systems and internet service provision.
In December, The Sentinel reported Goodwin had recorded pre-tax profits of £10.4 million for the six months to the end of October – up 71 per cent from the £6.1 million for the same period the previous year.
Sales also jumped by 26 per cent from £54.3 million to £68.4 million.
In November Goodwin lodged plans to build a factory and apprentice training school next to its Ivy House Road base.
It is estimated the proposals will create 150 jobs over the next five years.
Meanwhile, excavator giant JCB's return to form meant that last year it unveiled a record 66 new products at the construction industry trade show in Paris.
One of the largest construction vehicle manufacturers in the world, JCB employs more than 5,000 people at its factories in Staffordshire.
Because of the firm's reputation for excellence and attention to detail, its designers meet with people such as Jonny Ive – the man responsible for Apple's iPod, iPhone and iMac.
Turnover in 2011 rose to the highest level in JCB's 66-year history at £2.75 billion – 37 per cent greater than its £2 billion in 2010 and more than double the £1.35 billion sales in 2009.
In December JCB celebrated as its 500,000th backhoe loader rolled off the production line.
Tyre giant Michelin remains one of Stoke-on-Trent's largest employers – with around 1,200 workers at its UK headquarters in Campbell Road, Stoke.
Michelin employees in the Potteries focus on re-manufacture (the retread and re-use) of tyres.
Stoke is the base for Michelin's Lifestyle products division which is involved in the design of licensed-goods such as foot pumps, snow chains and other products which fit with Michelin's brand, but which go beyond its expertise in tyre manufacture.
In the food sector, it's hard to look further than cheese-packing firm Adams Foods which now employs more than 500 people at its £27 million packing and production centre which it opened in Leek in 2009.
The company now supplies cheese and butter products to virtually every major retailer in the UK.
On our doorstep another family favourite continues to do well in the food sector.
Family-owned firm Wright's Pies – founded in the wake of the 1920s depression – has almost doubled its turnover since 2007 and now has plants in Stoke, Crewe and Nuneaton where it employs more than 460 people.
Another South Cheshire success story is Bentley Motors which employs around 3,400 people and is looking to fill a further 250 posts after receiving more than £4.5 million from the Regional Growth Fund.
Prince Charles's visit today is a huge vote of confidence in the area's major employers and an acknowledgement that, despite what the critics may say, North Staffordshire remains open for business.
Centrally-located, with good transport links, a willing workforce, two top class universities and local authorities desperate to attract inward investment, the region is ripe for growth.
Let's hope that central Government listens to the city and county councils' plea for assistance and gives us a helping hand in November.
It is estimated the £1 billion so-called 'city deal' could create 31,000 jobs in 10 years across Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire and help make the region a world power in manufacturing for the first time in generations.
It is a vision we are sure HRH The Prince of Wales, whose own charity is working hard to help regenerate our city, would embrace wholeheartedly.
The Sentinel's open letter to Prince Charles
Dear Prince Charles,
Welcome back to Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire. You're here at an exciting time for this region. After struggling through years of economic decline and depression, our finest companies are once again establishing themselves as world-beaters. Engineers like JCB and Goodwin are winning big orders from all over the globe. Manufacturers such as Steelite and Emma Bridgewater are acknowledged as the best in Britain. Household names like Wedgwood and Michelin have ambitious expansion plans for their Staffordshire factories. We know, from your regular visits, how much this region's industrial heritage means to you. Everyone is grateful for your personal intervention to save Britain's last working Victorian pottery and its historic site, down at Middleport. We hope you will be equally impressed by other local manufacturers who are also creating jobs, training local staff – and taking our region forward. This month our local politicians and business leaders have joined forces to bid for a Government 'city deal' of devolved powers and seed corn investment, which could generate £1bn and create 31,000 new jobs. The deal will help restore our status as a powerhouse for economic growth. We want you to know how important manufacturing and engineering is to us. With supporters and friends like yourself, Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire can rise again. We hope you enjoy your visit.
The Staffordshire Sentinel,
on behalf of the people of Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire.