Express & Star wins £1.4m to boost local firms

The Express & Star today launched a £1.4 million Green Shoots Fund to help small and medium sized businesses in our region to help around 50 firms create new jobs.

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The newspaper, together with the University of Wolverhampton, has been awarded the money from the government’s £1 billion Regional Growth Fund.

Our fund will be distributed in the form of grants of up to £50,000 each so that businesses can invest, create new jobs and get the Black Country growing again.

Working with the Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership, the Black Country Chamber of Commerce and the four councils, businesses will be eligible to apply for grants to supplement their own investment.

Bids will be chosen on the basis of job benefits and the potential for growth in the economy.

The Express & Star Green Shoots Fund will run for 18 months from January 2013 with four separate high profile branded competitions.

Grants will come with mentoring and coaching so that the businesses can make the best use of the funding they receive.

The cash would be used to boost advanced manufacturing, building technologies, transport technologies such as aerospace and environmental technologies.

Adrian Faber, editor of the Express & Star, said: “We are aiming to help small and medium sized companies to get a financial boost along with advice and support to help create badly needed jobs.

“We want to make it as quick and simple as possible for people to apply for these grants.”

Pro Vice-Chancellor for research and enterprise at the University of Wolverhampton, Professor Ian Oakes, said: “Alongside our partners the Express & Star, we are delighted to be bringing this level of prosperity into the region which will enable businesses to thrive. It is particularly significant at an exciting time for the region, with the i54 development and new Jaguar Land Rover engine plant on the edge of Wolverhampton.”

Dudley North MP Ian Austin, who has supported the Express & Star’s bid, said: “This is about creating jobs in growth areas.”

The announcement of the funding was made today by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg as part of £1 billion given to 130 different projects around the country.

In the West Midlands, 17 schemes, including car makers Jaguar Land Rover, will share £124m.

JLR is expected to use its money to develop a new Land Rover Defender and a cabriolet version of the Range Rover Evoque, both of which would require the four cylinder engines from the companies new £355 million engine plant at the i54 business park, currently under construction in Wolverhampton.

Mr Clegg said: “This £1 billion boost for growth in towns and cities across England is creating jobs that will last in the parts of the country that need it most.”

* MPs from across the Black Country today threw their support behind the Express & Star Green Shoots Fund.

Tory and Labour MPs united to welcome the £1.4 million package that will be used to offer grants worth up to £50,000 to small and medium-sized businesses.

Ian Austin, Labour MP for Dudley North, who originally proposed the idea of the newspaper making a bid for government funding, said: “It is exactly the kind of thing a local paper should be doing - not just reporting the news, but helping to make things better.

“That is what this fund is about and I commend the Express & Star and the University of Wolverhampton for it.

“My colleagues and I will do everything we can now to put pressure on the government to make sure this money is released as quickly as possible.”

Paul Uppal, Conservative MP for Wolverhampton South West, added: “I ran a business for 20 years and it can be a lonely process. I particularly welcome the mentoring that this will provide. It is great to see the University of Wolverhampton involved in this.”

David Winnick, Labour MP for Walsall North, said: “I welcome any opportunity to provide the possibility of employment in the Black Country.

“I congratulate the Express & Star and the initiative it is taking.

“This is all the more important when youth unemployment in my borough is very high. It is a tragedy that so many young people are unemployed and they need opportunities.”

Wolverhampton South East Labour MP and former business minister Pat McFadden said: “It’s a great idea and it will help create much needed employment locally.”

Other MPs from across the Black Country such as Wolverhampton’s Emma Reynolds, Dudley’s Chris Kelly, Walsall’s Valerie Vaz and Sandwell’s Adrian Bailey and John Spellar have all endorsed the fund and its aims of providing both funds and mentoring to small businesses who want to expand their work and create jobs.