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COLUMNIST PAUL BENNEWORTH.

THE North East's tourism industry has long stood in the shadow of its more popular neighbours, the Lake Districts, Dales and North York Moors.

But recently we found the magic touch to attract increasing numbers of high-spending visitors to best exploit our incredible nature, scenery, museums and cultural attractions.

We've changed how outsiders think of the North East from a desolate post-industrial to a vibrant region of stunning landscapes and dynamic cities.

This image change reflected decades of investment in iconic, eye-catching cultural projects famous enough to have short names, including the Angel, Sage, Baltic and MoMA. But the a new story people were telling about Newcastle also helped triggered a 'mind shift'.

Back in 1995, a little-known American travel research bureau agent, Weismann Tourism Reports, published a list placing Newcastle as the world's eighth party city. The award partly reflected long-standing traditions of conspicuous consumption in the city, as well as exploding student numbers in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

This unexpected and eye-catching announcement from a wellrespected source triggered an avalanche of positive publicity. The ranking was completely unscientific but it catalysed a thousand newspaper articles all telling the same story of from coal and ships to clubs and bars.

And the wider story persuaded local authorities and tourist firms that tourism could once more strong in the North East. It even helped mobilise the regional coalition that came a hair's breadth of winning the European Capital of Culture 2007 competition.

So it's important not to underestimate the power of stories in transforming places' fortunes. The story of Newcastle Party City helped increasing numbers of potential tourists to decide to visit the North East of England.

In a world where anything can be done everywhere, these narratives help people decide where to do things. If you want to understand where we might be heading, today's unexpected eye-catching stories might be the first step in a changing image.

An old US-based friend (and ex Chronicle journalist) pointed me with incredulity to one such story, "Silicon Shore: carrying code to Newcastle". It voices the seemingly far-fetched claim that Newcastle is now the UK's second high-technology centre after London.

The story appeared on Buzzfeed: a curious new source whose revenue depends on on-line viewers. Anything that might pique your attention may feature: it started with lists of humorous photographs, but recently became a home for eye-catching unusual stories with a certain shock factor including covering the Ukraine crisis.

This story rings all their bells - it's highly far-fetched, and the title plays to regional prejudices both old (Coals to Newcastle) and new (Geordie Shore). But like the Weismann report, Buzzfeed've done their homework and seem to have uncovered something exciting.

I knew bits of the story, like Herb Kim and his Thinking Digital Conference, from when he worked in One North East's old Codeworks Centre of Excellence. Sage even featured in my Ph.D. as that great rarity, a North Eastern company and FTSE darling taking over flashy Silicon Valley start-ups.

The story's moved on since I left, with evidence of an emerging digital and media economy cluster . Money is following suit, with business angels, crowd-funding and venture capitalists putting their money behind these promising talents.

What North East high-technology lacks is strong public investment.

Without US Defence Department billions, Silicon Valley would today still be sleepy orange plantations and stables.

And delivering the promise of Silicon Shore could definitely benefit from timely public support. The problem remains that Coalition wrecked our existing public investment tools and austerity remains slurping ever more money out of the region.

So who in London will hear Buzzfeed's call and help make us a place where people across the globe want to be to do their hightechnology business?

What North East high-technology lacks is strong public investment
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 8, 2014
Words:632
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