Arguably Wolverhampton's most powerful son, Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, returned to his roots last night to hail the resurgence of the Black Country.
Presenting the Best of Black Country Awards to local businesses, he described their successes as the story of a region being born again after the loss of much of its traditional manufacturing that he recalled from his boyhood, when "flames from the blast furnaces lit up the grey sky on winter afternoons".
Dr King praised the character of the area, which enabled the region to come through and enter a new era of regeneration.
"The products of the 21st century may not be the nails and bolts, screws and fasteners of the past," Dr King said. "But they will require the use of manufacturing know-how and business ingenuity to service the needs of consumers.
"I have been struck, as I travel to a different part of the country each month, by how many firms are producing imaginative and innovative products for which there is a real demand around the world."
That did not mean that all successful firms make high tech products, rather there is a market where low wages are not the most important competitive advantage.
"The Black Country tradition of numerous small firms operating cheek by jowl is exactly the model so successful in Silicon Valley and Bangalore, in science parks and film studios, and in financial centres round the world".
Winners of the Black Country awards included both new and established companies spanning manufacturing, services and construction.
"Of course, some of the old ways have gone and many manufacturing companies have perished, Dr King recalled. "Recent years have not been easy for the Black Country, especially as profit margins have been squeezed by greater competition from overseas.
"But there are – as you yourselves demonstrate – many examples of the regeneration of the Black Country, be they new businesses or older ones re-focusing their activities."
Dr King noted, too, changes beside the Black Country's economic revival. The University of Wolverhampton – "impossible to imagine that there would be one when I was a boy" – now has more than 23,000 students.
It had put its motto "Innovation and Opportunity" into practice through partnerships with Wolverhampton Science Park and the Telford-Wolverhampton Technology Corridor.
There was also Walsall's New Art Gallery in its internationally acclaimed building.
Turning to the role of sport, Dr King highlighted the Chance to Shine campaign, where he is president, to regenerate cricket in state schools. Twelve Wolverhampton and Walsall schools will be participating next summer, he noted.
"Given that in business the need to work in teams is of the essence, it is sad that competitive team sport in our schools has declined," he added.
"The aim of Chance to Shine is to give young people from all our communities, boys and girls, a chance to experience what it is like to be in a team and to learn how to win and how to lose."
He described the Bank's interest-setting Monetary Policy Committee as the referee for the economy. "We want to allow you to focus on running your businesses – you are the players – while the MPC quietly gets on with its job."
"The Black Country is where it all began," Dr King concluded. "But now we must look to the future.
"The Black Country has entered a new era. And you are making it happen.
"If we can retain the degree of stability that we have seen now for more than a decade, then you will have the opportunity to start and expand businesses that will compete for Black Country business awards in the years to come."