Investment: Burtonwood's plan for local industry airlift: Warrington, which sent US bombers into Europe, hopes its D-Day event will open a runway for inward investment

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The Independent Online
WARRINGTON is not the only place in Britain doing its bit to mark this year's 50th anniversary of the D-Day landings. But it is betting heavily that its efforts will have a longer-lasting effect than most.

This week, RAF Burtonwood, a former US military base on the outskirts of the North-west town, will be the centre of a week of events intended to draw industrial investment to the area - particularly from overseas.

The organisers of Business Connections '94 are deliberately playing on the site's 50-year link to make a special pitch to US companies through an American pavilion. Publicity material is designed to look like wartime documents, including five-day passes, and it is hoped there will be several distinguished guests.

Thirty organisations from four states - Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee and New Jersey - are due to attend. But there will be another 30 from Europe, increasing local optimism that the show will succeed in its aim.

'We've had a hell of a response and a lot of interest from the United States,' said Mike Pizer, Warrington Borough Council's head of economic development, who has played a key role in setting up the event and its three predecessors.

Indeed, the Business Connections exhibitions - which are designed to help overseas companies form partnerships with local enterprises - are just one of many initiatives over the past decade that have helped put life back into a depressed area.

As Mr Pizer points out, when he started out as a planner in the mid-1980s, Warrington had many derelict buildings and a higher-than-average unemployment rate.

Now, thanks to some pioneering work in such areas as the use of derelict land grants and co-operating with organisations in Western and Eastern Europe - as well as close liaison between the council and private companies - it become a centre for business relocation.

The Birchwood Science Park and Winwick Quay are just two of the business parks in the area that have become home to many international companies.

The end of the Cold War and the consequent scaling down of Allied forces has led the US to withdraw from Burtonwood. But far from bewailing the detrimental effect on the economy of the loss of thousands of free-spending service personnel, Warrington sees new opportunities.

Large parcels of land on the huge site have been released for economic development - including a 600-acre site next to the M62 motorway.

Part of the area's appeal is its central geograpical location and proximity to important transport links. But much credit is also due to the marketing efforts of, first, the Warrington Runcorn Development Corporation and, more recently, Warrington 2000+. This is a non- profit company formed by Warrington Borough Council, private industry and the Commission for New Towns to sustain Warrington's success, encourage investment and job creation by new and existing organisations and enhance and develop tourism opportunities.

As Mr Pizer put it, there have been 'varying degrees of success' in the past. But if significant numbers of US companies can be persuaded to use the area as a stepping-stone for European markets, the overall effort will have been worthwhile.

'We're hoping companies coming across are going to find partners in Warrington - or if we cannot satisfy them, somebody in the North-west will,' Mr Pizer said.

'Some companies will probably be looking to set up some kind of facility, and we hope they'll come here first and use it as a launching pad for the rest of Europe.'

(Photograph omitted)

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