Green Shoots Plus: 600 jobs boost thanks to £4m Express & Star business fund

Business owners have revealed how more than 600 jobs have been created and protected thanks to £4 million of grants obtained through the Express & Star.

Sixty-five businesses across the Black Country, Staffordshire, Shropshire and Herefordshire received grants of up to £150,000 through Green Shoots Plus to go towards projects to help them grow.

In total £4.1m was awarded, creating 411 jobs and protecting 203 others, as well as generating a huge £13.4m in private sector investment into the regional economy.

The funding is provided by the Government's Regional Growth Fund and distributed through the Express & Star, the University of Wolverhampton and a panel of business experts.

One of the businesses to benefit was MD Woodtech in Tipton, a carpentry and woodworking business that makes bespoke joinery for boats, including doors, portholes, and vent liners.

Managing director Marcus Day, 51, started the business on his own in 2006 and now has six employees.

The grant he received from Green Shoots Plus allowed him to buy new machinery and extend the business's premises.

He said: "Thanks to what we have been able to do with the grant we are now more competitive, quicker and more efficient.

"Since the financial crash in 2008 it has been more difficult to borrow money and you had to jump through a lot of hoops – although my new bank have been fantastic.

"The grant we received allowed us to get on and improve the business at a time when it was difficult to get backing for that sort of project.

"It has helped us meet new demands from customers."

Advanced Seals and Gaskets Limited in Dudley also received a grant from the fund – 20 years after it launched with £1,000 from the government advice service Business Link.

Today it employs 40 people and has a turnover of £4m.

Green Shoots funding went towards expanding the company's premises and buying new machinery.

Seven extra workers have been taken on with four more on the way.

Managing director Richard Breakwell said: "The Green Shoots funding meant that we could press ahead with our projects much sooner than if we had to wait get all the funding together ourselves. That means we have been able to deliver the project probably several years earlier which means we are growing the business, winning new work, and putting back into the local and national economy now."

The grants covered up to 30 per cent of an overall project cost and were worth between £10,000 and £150,000.

Green Shoots Plus is a bigger and wider-ranging successor to the pioneering Green Shoots Fund, which has distributed more than £1m in grants to 35 businesses across the Black Country. The original fund created 129 jobs and safeguarded a further 74.

The fund is aimed at businesses working in advanced manufacturing, building technologies, transport technologies, including aerospace, environmental technologies or business to business services, such as accountancy, design and print, electrical, advertising or marketing.

Applicants needed to have been turned down by their banks for the required funding and not to have had more than £175,000 in public funding in the past three years.

Last week a delegation from the Green Shoots Plus fund visited some of the businesses to benefit.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wolverhampton Professor Ian Oakes said: "Green Shoots Plus has been a real success. More than £4m of Government funding has been channelled into small and medium-sized businesses across the region and what we have seen is how that has been used to grow those enterprises through new machinery, staff, and premises to make a real noticeable impact to the local economy. What has been encouraging to hear is the work that is now taking place to train and upskill the workforce locally."

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “The Express & Star and its partners should be congratulated for what has clearly been a highly successful programme.

“Of course, the jobs created, the businesses helped and the investment driven from Green Shoots is to be welcomed.

“But I am particularly impressed with the way a high-profile media outlet with such great reach into the community and one of our region’s great universities worked together to deliver great results.”

Chris Leggett, marketing and communications director for Express & Star publisher the Midland News Association, sat on the funding decision panel.

He said: “As the leading publisher for the region, we are pleased to have helped increase business development and employment through the Green Shoots partnership.

“Many of the businesses only became aware of the Green Shoots funding opportunity through our titles, showing the value of newspapers in improving local life.

“It was fascinating to meet the grant recipients and see the progress they have made through investment.

“Green Shoots will have a proud legacy of growing business success stories, changing lives for the better.”

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