A minister has hailed the economic recovery in east Kent three years after drugs giant Pfizer pulled out of the area at a cost of more than 2,400 jobs.
Greg Clark MP paid tribute to the “entrepreneurialism” of the businesses who have received interest free loans from the government’s £3.2bn Regional Growth Fund.
He was speaking at an event hosted by Kent County Council to celebrate a milestone for its £35m Expansion East Kent scheme, which has handed out nearly £20m to more than 50 businesses in the area.
Greg Clark MP at the KCC event to celebrate more than 50 companies receiving Expansion East Kent loans
Designed to help businesses grow and create more jobs, the 0% interest loans have been given to businesses of all shapes and sizes, from pre start-ups to established family firms.
So far the scheme has created or safeguarded more than 1,500 jobs.
The event at the Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence, Canterbury, also acted as a call for more firms to show interest in taking a loan, with more than £15m still available in the pot.
Cities minister Mr Clark said: “You have got businesses here saying how they are expanding and growing and telling fantastic stories.
“It shows you the level of entrepreneurialism that is here and is flourishing.
“The east Kent economy is recovering strongly. This reinforces it because you have expanding businesses giving further confidence to the economy.
Sian Holt from Fudge Kitchen, which borrowed £110,000, proudly displays her wares at Expansion East Kent event
“The economy here has turned a corner and is performing more strongly than in recent years.
“That is self fulfilling. Once an area is on the rise, as east Kent clearly is, then more people are attracted to do business there and there is more opportunity for people to make sales. It is a virtuous circle.”
During Q&A sessions, about 150 guests heard from business bosses who have taken out loans from the fund, including ATEC-3D director Sean Spratley.
His Hawkinge-based aerial photography firm, which he runs with his brother Simon and brother-in-law Chris Slee, borrowed £30,000 from Expansion East Kent over five years.
From left, Sean Spratley, Simon Spratley and Chris Slee from aerial photography firm Atec-3D, which borrowed £30,000
He said: “It’s enabled us to employ someone full time and to buy the equipment needed to get our aerial company up and running.
“When I first set the business up it was just myself and my brother. Over a two year period, we grew very slowly because we couldn’t afford for anyone to have a full-time role.
“Now the funding has come through, we have got a full-time director, a pilot and full-time staff looking after the financial side of things.
“Without the £30,000 we wouldn’t be where we are now. We would be half-a year to a year behind.
“The industry is going to expand very quickly and luckily we have been able to get at the front of it. We couldn’t have attacked the market at the forefront of the industry without this money.”
Since 2012, Expansion East Kent has loaned £19.3m to 54 companies.
KCC leader Paul Carter addresses guests at the Expansion East Kent milestone event
It is hoped it will create 5,000 jobs in the next few years and unlock £300m of private sector investment.
Money repaid by companies can also be loaned to other businesses in future.
Kent County Council leader Paul Carter said: “We are really building momentum and creating new job opportunities by enabling new business start ups to access this free finance.
“If people have got good business propositions and need access to finance, fill in a form and come and see us.
“Without this, east Kent would be a very depressed area, and yet here we are, celebrating the success of 1,500 new jobs created through the £20m that has been passported to businesses.
“We lend to the right businesses, interest free, with the sensible repayment conditions and we can lend it again and again to the next generation of businesses year after year.”