Caithness & North Sutherland has a vibrant business community covering a wide range of key sectors and is set to experience significant growth opportunities in a number of these over the coming decades.
Caithness and North Sutherland has an outstanding capability in the energy sector and an impressive track record of working across a range of energy industries.
The area is rich in potential, has close proximity to key energy assets in the offshore wind and oil & gas markets, and has a highly-skilled and dedicated supply chain.
The region has a long association with the nuclear industry, which has helped it to build up a valuable and unique skills base (see Supply Chain and Skills for more information). With the decommissioning of the Dounreay nuclear site currently expected to continue until 2034, and commitments given by major operators in the sector to commit to future investment in the region, nuclear is set to play a key role in the region’s economy for the foreseeable future.
Future opportunities in the nuclear sector include the export of skills from the region, and experts from the region have already advised on the cleanup of the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan and the Ignalina facility in Lithuania.
These plans have developed further, with a collaboration between a ‘Team UK’ consisting of experts from Cavendish Nuclear, Jacobs and Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd using expertise gained from decommissioning the Dounreay Prototype Fast Reactor to support the Japan Atomic Energy Agency in decommissioning of the Monju reactor.
While predominantly focused on the civil nuclear industry, Caithness & North Sutherland is also home to NRTE Vulcan, which operated for many years as a testing facility for Pressurised Water Reactors for nuclear submarines. Discussions are ongoing about the decommissioning of the site and this is expected to generate significant opportunities in years to come
The oil & gas industry has a significant presence in Caithness & Sutherland. Subsea 7 has a major manufacturing site at Wester, just outside of Wick, where it creates state of the art pipeline bundles for offshore oil platforms, and Imenco has a base at Wick Industrial Estate manufacturing high-tech camera equipment for the industry.
To the west of the region, Scrabster Harbour offers significant benefits as a base for companies operating in the West of Shetland fields, with significant time savings compared to an Aberdeen base.
Wick John O’Groats Airport has previously worked with Chevron as a base for offshore workers flying to West of Shetland rigs and, in conjunction with Scrabster Harbour, offers possibilities for quick crew transfers to offshore support vessels.
With the nearby Pentland Firth offering access to some of the strongest currents in the world, Caithness & North Sutherland is an ideal venue for wave and tidal energy.
The region is already home to the MeyGen tidal energy project, which is currently the largest planned tidal stream project in the world and the only commercial multi-turbine array to have commenced construction.
Phase 1A of the project has seen four turbines deployed in the Inner Sound of the Pentland Firth and, as of June 2019 the project had exported over 17GWh to the grid.
The Environmental Research Institute (ERI) in Thurso offers world-class expertise to those operating in marine environments, and has real-world expertise in delivering projects for wave and tidal developers around the globe.
Caithness & North Sutherland is an ideal base for offshore wind development, with easy access to proposed licensing sites, excellent port and harbour infrastructure, and a supply chain with significant experience in offshore wind developments.
The region is already home to one of the largest offshore wind developments in the world, the Beatrice Offshore Windfarm, consisting of 84 turbines with an installed capacity of 588MW. Wick Harbour acts as the operations and maintenance base for Beatrice, and helicopter operations to the field are flown from the nearby Wick John O’Groats Airport.
Two other major offshore wind projects – Moray East (1,116 MW) and Moray West (950 MW) – are currently in progress or planned for development in the Inner Moray Firth, and discussions have already taken place with ports in Caithness as to how they can support both construction and operation of these developments.
The upcoming ScotWind leasing round has identified eight proposed development sites within easy operational reach of the region, and in coming years offshore wind is expected to be a significant growth sector for the region.
In recognition of this, the DeepWind Offshore Cluster, covering an area from Wick in the north to Aberdeen in the north-east, is the largest offshore wind representative body in Scotland.
Finance & Business Services
Caithness and North Sutherland is well-known for being a centre of excellence in finance and business services, with a strong public sector giving the area a rich seam of expertise in finance and administration, and major national businesses in the sector choosing the region as a base.
Caithness and North Sutherland has a strong pool of experienced and talented people working in financial services. There is also a breadth of knowledge and skills in administration and finance through the area’s strong public sector.
Among these is the the Equiniti office at Thurso Business Park, which administers pensions for nuclear industry clients including the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) and the Combined Nuclear Pension Plan (CNPP).
In addition, the region is home to numerous smaller financial services businesses, covering everything from accountancy to wealth management. Caithness Chamber of Commerce represents many of these businesses and has lists of the key finance and professional services businesses in the region.
Caithness and North Sutherland has a well earned reputation as a centre of excellence for business services for both business to business and business to consumer concerns.
The local workforce has excellent IT literacy, communication and people skills. Couple this with the relatively low business costs, such as cheaper overhead costs, compared with locations elsewhere in Scotland and the UK and you have an extremely viable and attractive business proposition.
Of note, the region is home to BT’s purpose-built contact centre at Thurso Business Park, a 24/7 service offering fallback and disaster recovery across the UK.
Caithness and North Sutherland is also home to a range of businesses offering a wide variety of services, from insurance brokers and training providers to ecological consultants.
This is an exciting time for tourism in Caithness and Sutherland, with the success of the North Coast 500 route bringing a significant number of new national and international visitors to the region and highlighting some of the hidden gems the region has to offer.
The area has seen a surge in and exciting tourism initiatives and businesses to meet the growing demand, from bespoke tour companies to eco-friendly glamping offerings.
Some of the key initiatives and developments are highlighted below.
The iconic tourist destination of John O’Groats, situated at the northernmost tip of the Scottish mainland, has undergone significant redevelopment and investment in recent years.
Redevelopment began in 2012 with a £6.5m joint investment from Natural Retreats (now Together Travel) and Heritage GB, delivering a complete remodelling and restoration of the iconic John O’Groats House Hotel and the construction of 23 state-of-the-art eco-friendly self-catering lodges.
The community-led John O’Groats Development Trust has since been set up to develop and promote the location further, improving amenities and opportunities for the benefit of businesses, inhabitants and visitors.
John O’Groats has also seen a resurgence in business development, in particular with the ambitious plans from John O’Groats Brewery to invest £250,000 in creating a brewery, tasting room and visitor centre at the Last House.
Founded in 2012, Venture North is a grassroots, collaborative group set up to promote the tourist offering of Caithness and North Sutherland.
The group acts in part as a Destination Management Organisation (DMO) for the region, promoting what it has to offer and developing materials to promote inbound tourism to the area. The Venture North website offers a destination map of Caithness and Sutherland along with a full-featured directory and listing of key local tourism businesses and activities.
In recent years, the group has also developed the Taste North Festival as a celebration of local food and drink. The festival promotes the importance of buying local and offers a chance for visitors to sample and purchase from a range of local food and drink producers, as well as featuring cookery and cocktail making masterclasses and demonstrations.
Both Scrabster and Wick Harbours have made significant efforts to develop and promote a tourism offering for the region, with each focusing on a different key market.
Scrabster’s efforts have been focused on growing the cruise ship market, and it has seen great success in this, with recent seasons seeing consistent growth in vessel and passenger numbers. A £17.3m scheme under way to develop the St. Ola Pier at the harbour will allow it to accommodate bigger and longer vessels from 2021.
Wick Harbour, meanwhile, has focused its efforts on the sail tourism industry, with a similar degree of success. With the development of a 70-berth marina at the harbour, it has seen a revival in yachting and small craft activity and provides a much needed link to allow vessels to sail around the north coast of Scotland..
Food and Drink
Caithness and North Sutherland has long had a reputation as a top producer of quality food and drink, with a clean natural environment and access to high quality local ingredients.
A supportive business environment has helped a significant number of local food and drink producers start up and grow into national and international markets, and has also attracted inward investment to the region from companies like Shore Seaweed.
The first step in producing quality food products is access to the right ingredients and this is something that Caithness and Sutherland can offer in spades. From Mey Selections beef to fish and seafood freshly landed at local harbours, producers in the region can access quality ingredients on their doorstep.
The region plays home to a number of highly-regarded and award-winning food producers. These range from Thurso-based baker Reids of Caithness, which supplies award-winning bakery products to worldwide markets, to Caithness Smokehouse, a multiple Great Taste award winner.
Hotels and restaurants in Caithness also offer an array of local tastes and flavours to dazzle the palate, from fresh-caught seafood to award-winning Caithness beef and lamb – see more in the Eating Out and Socialising section of the website.
Caithness and Sutherland has a long history as a producer of top quality and award-winning drink products that are sold and distributed worldwide. With access to some of the cleanest, freshest water in the world, along with a wide range of local botanicals, the region is the perfect environment for drink producers.
Most famous is Old Pulteney whisky, which has been produced at the Pulteney Distillery in Caithness since 1826. Based near Wick’s historic harbour, the “Maritime Malt” is distilled and matured in hand-selected oak casks. Consistently highly ranked by whisky experts, the core range of Old Pulteney malts has won numerous awards.
In more recent times, the region has also seen the meteoric growth of Dunnet Bay Distillers, whose Rock Rose Gin and Holy Grass Vodka have taken the drinks world by storm. Started by local couple Martin and Claire Murray with support from local enterprise agencies and the North Highland Regeneration Fund, in just a few short years Dunnet Bay Distillers has grown from a small operation to one which ships thousands of litres of gin and vodka to markets around the world.
Recent years have also seen the establishment of the Wolfburn Distillery near Thurso, based just a short walk away from the site of the historic distillery of the same name. The modern incarnation, which started production in 2013, has already won several awards and plaudits despite the relative youth of the spirit.