Tower of Refuge Douglas, Isle of Man

Isle of Man re-engineers its economy

As the UK and Irish economies threaten to sink without trace, the Isle of Man is getting along nicely - and even has room for a Space industry. E&T says 'fastyr mie' to the Isle of Man.

For a while back there, economists' advice to government ministers of the UK's need to concentrate on a service-based economy seemed like a sound one. The economy grew quickly on the back of complex bond issues and an increasingly dominant financial services sector. Who needs to make things any more?

But when the party ended abruptly in 2008, the folly of the UK and Irish governments was exposed. Now the government line is all about the benefits of a 'balanced' economy – where engineering and technological improvements would be key to a sustainable future.

So where are the role-models for a healthy economy? Should the Whitehall mandarins squint out to China and India – whose domination in manufacturing, engineering and technology is destined to eclipse the economies of the West? Or should they gaze in adoration at the example of Germany – where growth is healthy and unemployment is falling?

Perhaps. But there is an example, just past the end of their nose, of an economy that was once heavily skewed towards financial services and which has now successfully been rebalanced by attracting new businesses from the world of technology and creating an atmosphere where existing businesses could flourish.

Quarter-century of growth

The Isle of Man economy has enjoyed 26 years of uninterrupted growth. Between 1997 and 2002 growth rates were on average 10 per cent.

Although financial services remain an important part of the success of the economy, the Manx government has been keen to develop the technology and engineering sector, such as aerospace, precision engineering, and electronics.

Claire Christian, member of the department of economic development, points out that there has been a policy for over a decade to diversify the economy.

'In particular we are seeking to grow the engineering sector. We have a number of support schemes designed to encourage our companies to work more closely together,' she says. 'There isn't a specific target, but the engineering sector has grown more than 50 per cent in the last four years.'

The Isle of Man Aerospace Cluster (IOMAC) is an integral part of the UK's North West Aerospace Alliance (NWAA) and therefore the Island's precision engineering companies have a close relationship with engineering companies located on the UK mainland.

IOMAC represents and supports 16 aerospace and related engineering businesses on the island by sharing best-practice, skills, joint procurement, process and quality standards and pooling marketing responsibilities.

'We will need to continue to embed continuous improvement and create strong relationships with the wider market. The cluster is important to promote the Isle of Man as a high-quality manufacturing base not just the to UK but to the rest of the world,' says Adrian Moore, business development manager for manufacturing.

'We are aware of the high standards and sometimes unpredictable nature of the aerospace industry and the need to continue investment in the latest skills and equipment.'

Upward mobility

Perhaps it sounds unlikely, but according to a report from space and aerospace consultancy ASCEND, the island is the fifth-most likely country to land on the Moon. The small dependency has a burgeoning space industry, which has been working at launching a private craft into Space.

The Space Intelligence Report ranks countries in order of the likelihood that they will make it to the moon and while the Isle of Man trails superpowers including the United States, Russia, China and India, but it is notably ahead of any western European economy.

The island's 12 space companies include cosmic tourism company Excalibur Almaz and manufacturer CVI, which made the laser optics that helped Nasa's Phoenix Lander spot snow on Mars in 2008.

According to the report, the Manx space industry has generated almost £400m over the last three years. One of its inhabitants, Nicole Stott even spent four months at the International Space Station in 2009. While on board, she hosted a video conference with Manx schools. Husband Chris's firm ManSat offers Manx students a two-week scholarship to Nasa's Space School.

'It reinforces that there's something good going on in the Isle of Man when it comes to the schools and education,' he says.

The world hasn't been slow to notice. Google launched its fourth Lunar X Prize Team Summit on the island during the UN's World Space Week last October. The summit brought together executives from the 22 teams competing for the $30m prize together to discuss their plans to land a robot on the surface of the Moon, make it travel 500m over its surface, and transmit data back to Earth. The prize is designed to encourage privately-funded missions into space.

Space engineering

Most recently, the Space Data Association – a body established by commercial satellite operators to improve the safety and efficiency of space operations has been completed and is about to start operations.

The Space Data Centre based on the island is an automated space situational awareness system through which satellite operators share operator-owned orbital data. It provides full Conjunction Assessment (CA) capability (assessing the physical proximity of objects in space) and data-sharing in support of radio frequency interference (RFI) mitigation. Because participating satellite operators provide the data, it is the most up-to-date information available.

The system converts disparate data to a common format and performs integrity checks oncontributed ephemerides, making the information more reliable.

The SDC began intial operations in July 2010 for founding members Inmarsat, Intelsat and SES and, with the transfer of the the prototype Socrates geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) and low Earth orbit (LEO) conjuntion assessment program to the SDC in December 2010, the SDC now provides CA processing for more than 60 percent of all operational satellites in GEO.

The SDA's main technical adviser and systems developer on the project, Analytical Graphics, completed work less than a year after winning the Space Data Center development contract.

SDA said it is now pursuing data-sharing agreements to improve the scope and quality of data available for these critical operations. Besides Space, the island's government is also looking to attract more grounded technologies.

In particular, Christian points out, there is a push to encourage the clean tech and food manufacturing sector to look at the Island and the government is confident that it will attract these sectors.

It is traditional to say hello to the Faeries when crossing the famed eponymous bridge, but no one on the Isle of Man is leaving its economic future to luck. *

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