Just over 50 years ago, a denim-clad American wearing cowboy boots strode into the Commodore hotel in Stonehaven.
He took off his Stetson hat, shook the hand of the owner and said he understood it was a new hotel with en suite facilities in all the bedrooms, which in 1970 was unusual.
He asked how many rooms there were, was told 40, and then to the astonishment of the hotelier (a young Stewart Spence) he asked to book 20 of them. Not for a night, not for a week, but for six months – and that he would pay upfront by banker’s draft.
Nobody knew it at the time, but it was the start of Scotland’s North Sea oil boom and following this gentleman to the north-east were three drilling rigs from the Gulf of Mexico.
Since that day, this region has been the custodian of the UK's world-leading energy sector.
Our North Sea pioneers, pulled from all corners of the globe, conquered the steepest challenges and pushed engineering to its limits to create one of the greatest success stories in Britain's long industrial history.
Their legacy is a region of entrepreneurs, problem solvers and a world class supply chain.
But as the sun begins to set on the oil and gas titans dotted along out coastal horizon, this region sits on the cusp of two futures: one where a UK economic powerhouse is sent into decline, and the expertise built up over half a century is lost; or one where the next generation of pioneers lead a green energy revolution which delivers prosperity and energy security to us all.
Earlier this year, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she wanted to see the north-east repositioned as the Net Zero Capital of Europe. Today, an extraordinary coalition of port operators, businesses, local authorities and academia are launching a joint bid to make that vision a reality, if they can secure her support and that of the UK Government.
The North East of Scotland Green Freeport Bid – led by the Port of Aberdeen, Peterhead Port Authority and Aberdeen International Airport and the region's two councils – will deliver 30,000 jobs across the tax sites and generate £7.5billion for the regional economy over 10 years.
The package of tax incentives on offer will usher in a new era of investment, innovation, regeneration and opportunity for this region. And above all else, it will help deliver, at pace, the interventions the UK needs to tackle the climate emergency.
These include delivering an integrated energy cluster focussed on the delivery of net zero, with manufacturing and subsea engineering clusters to maximise economic benefit from Scotland’s rapidly-growing offshore wind and hydrogen sectors.
It will also accelerate the delivery of Acorn, Scotland’s only carbon capture project, and establish Europe’s largest direct air capture facility on the Buchan coast.
And those who will deliver this new energy revolution are not jetting in wearing Stetson hats; many already live among us thanks to our oil and gas industry. But they know the clock is ticking.
The fusion of Green Freeport status with a region famed for its resilience, adaptability and pioneering entrepreneurial spirit would deliver a prosperous new chapter in our industrial story. One which, quite literally, could help us change the world.
And while the future of the North Sea has been the source of much political division, this ambitious bid is something both our governments can unite behind and deliver for the benefit of the north-east, Scotland and the whole United Kingdom.
We have so much to gain by working together – and it is mission critical for this region that private enterprise also supports the bid. So let's back a North East of Scotland Freeport, let's accelerate our journey to net zero and let’s anchor the world's leading energy companies and talent right here in the UK for another 50+ years.
You can show your support for the bid by signing our open letter. Click here to read more.