WE LIVE in a sub-region that has always looked outwards, across the sea, as much as inland for its economic wellbeing and growth.

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And in the 21st Century, the maritime sector continues to be a key factor in the Haven Gateway’s economy, with our ports, shipping, logistics and transport industries, and all things related, generating thousands of jobs both directly and indirectly.

Of course, the growth in cargo volumes and, therefore, related business has slowed a little in line the global economic situation but, balancing things out, the sea is presenting us with some extraordinary new opportunities – in the offshore wind energy sector.

In December, a planning application was submitted for the huge East Anglia ONE offshore wind farm, a project which involves the installation of up to 325 wind turbines across an area of 300 square kilometres in the southern North Sea. During its three-year construction phase and 20 years of operation, the project could create and/or underpin around 1,800 jobs within our area, and generate £500million for the local economy.

However, it’s not enough to sit back and feel pleased about this. Take your eye off the ball, and opportunities have a nasty habit of slipping just out of reach. Decision-makers from the local authorities, industry bodies and businesses themselves must work together to ensure the facilities, services and skills are all in place to make the most of this and other developments and investments.

Bearing that in mind, we must applaud the launch of the Energising Harwich project just before Christmas. A consortium of employers led by AJ Woods Engineering in partnership with Colchester Institute, Energising Harwich is looking to support at least 40 businesses in developing the skills of their workforces to meet the needs of the sector.

After a successful bid to the South East Local Enterprise Partnership, AJ Woods has secured a £2.28million loan from the Growing Places Fund to deliver new jobs for Harwich and respond to the significant opportunities in offshore wind.

The project includes the creation of a dedicated harbour and operations centre for high-speed offshore support vessels, and 300 local jobs through this initial programme of activity. It’s good to start 2013 on such a positive note!

: : David Ralph is chief executive of the Haven Gateway Partnership.