South West England: The nation’s forgotten industrial region

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The South West is most famous for its stunning scenery, but the region is also home to a thriving, deeply passionate manufacturing community.

Mark Amphlett, general manager of Amtek Plastics of Newton Abbott, and a member of The Manufacturer Editorial Advisory Board, flies the flag for a highly productive region.

There is a huge proportion of South West England that is busy manufacturing components from small to large, and in every industry you could possibly imagine.

The manufacturers themselves range from SMEs with only a handful of staff, through to some of the largest and best-known manufacturers in the world.

Here in the South West, we cover almost every single method of production, and the only criticism I can make is that my fellow manufacturers seem to do too good a job of keeping quiet about just how excellent they are, individually and collectively as a manufacturing region.

But don’t just take my word for it, the facts and figures speak for themselves. Here in Devon and Cornwall, there are 10 companies with an annual turnover greater than £250m. The top 150 businesses in Devon and Cornwall turn over a staggering £10.7bn and employ more than 78,000 staff.

You may be surprised to know that 23% of those Devon and Cornwall businesses are in the manufacturing sector – over twice as much as our thriving tourism and leisure sector!

Made in…

When discussing UK manufacturing, most people tend to think of the UK’s North and Midlands as its traditional home. I understand this, since I grew up in the West Midlands and I am still a devoted follower of ‘Made in the Midlands’ and ‘Made in Yorkshire’.

I appreciate how these statements reinforce a proud heritage and truly engage with a worldwide audience. Likewise, my industrial experience of Devon and Cornwall makes me firmly believe that it’s high time ‘Made in the West Country’ becomes a recognised UK manufacturing badge of pride.


A common misconception I hear all too often is that to get to the South West you must still dawdle along the A38, a road that previous generations may remember as one of the longest and slowest in the UK.

Well, times have changed, and the links for the South West via road, rail, air and sea now make it one of the most accessible parts of the UK – one of the reasons why the manufacturing sector in here is able to grow at a rate that other areas may find difficult.

The future

Let’s look at the availability of skilled talent within the region. Like everywhere, we face the problem of manufacturing and engineering jobs being perceived as ‘old fashioned’ – they’re not presented to the younger generation in a way that makes industry seem attractive to school or university leavers.

With the way the world has evolved, all too many young people who are looking at their future career are guided towards making an amazing smartphone app or developing the next social media platform, rather than actually making things.

However, here in Newton Abbot we are very fortunate to have the new University College, which specializes in science and engineering, and we look to them to help develop our future talented engineers.

We want and need students who appreciate what fantastic opportunities they have on their own doorstep; that just a stone’s throw away from their place of education is a whole world of manufacturing where real things are made every day.

Here in the South West we have an amazing group of businesses and individuals that have the passion and determination to make this a great region within the UK manufacturing sector.

We have some very large market leaders and also some truly fantastic SMEs that have what it takes to be part of the phenomenal success of the South West. I am proud to be part of the manufacturing sector, and immensely humbled to be able to work in this fine industry in such a wonderful location.

The more we, as an industry as well as a region, can promote ourselves to the wider community, the better it will be for UK manufacturing.

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Mark Amphlett is general manager of Amtek Plastics, one of the UK’s leading plastic injection moulding companies, offering everything from concept and tooling to UK injection moulding and distribution.

He is a member of The Manufacturer Top 100 and currently sits on The Manufacturer’s Editorial Advisroy Board.