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Last Updated: Monday, 7 August 2006, 00:36 GMT 01:36 UK
Eden Project's regeneration work
By Will Smale
Business reporter, BBC News, Cornwall

The Eden Project
The Eden Project wouldn't look out of place on Mars
Since it opened in 2001, Cornwall's Eden Project has established itself as one of the most popular tourist attractions in the UK.

Based around two giant greenhouses or "biospheres" that look like they could have been beamed down from outer space, it remains one of the top-five pay-to-enter tourist sites in the country.

Yet behind the tropical plants and cutting edge architecture that attract 1.2 million visitors a year, Eden is also continuing with an important sister mission - economic regeneration.

Ever since it first opened, Eden says it made a conscious decision to source its supplies wherever possible from Cornish companies, be it food goods, plants, other retail items, and even its electricity provider.

Today it continues to buy from no less than 3,000 Cornish firms.

Add the knock on spending in the local economy by visitors who specifically go to Cornwall to visit the Eden Project, in its first five years of opening it has contributed 700m to the Cornish economy.

And while this figure comes from Eden itself, it is based upon the respected Cambridge Tourism Economic Impact Model, and independently verified.

More than pasties

Eden managing director Gaynor Coley explains that its relationship with local suppliers is far from just phoning in orders.

Glasses made from former Grolsch beer bottles
Cornish firm Green Glass makes glasses from old wine and beer bottles

"From the very beginning we knew we wanted to build real relationships with our suppliers, to move beyond just having conversations like: 'Hello, can I place an order for 200 pasties?'" she says.

"We wanted to develop partners that could grow and develop with us, to do our bit for the wider Cornish economy."

One such Cornish firm that Eden has helped develop is Green Glass, which specialises in turning recycled wine and beer bottles into glasses.

To explain very simply, it cuts old wine bottles in two, before turning the top half into a goblet-shaped glass and the bottom into a tumbler.

"The Eden Project opened just as I was starting the business from my garden shed," says Green Glass founder and managing director Glenn Slade.

"Eden started to stock our products and it gave us the background sales we could rely on to establish and grow the business.

"We even continue to source a lot of our old bottles from Eden, before sending finished glasses back for sale in its shop. This example of closed-loop recycling is very pleasing.

"I wouldn't say that if it wasn't for Eden we wouldn't still be here today, but it has been a fantastic help."

Today Green Glass says it sells 200,000 recycled glasses a year across the UK and overseas.

Global work

Eden commercial development manager Peter Stewart says that while you will hear grumbles from some Cornish firms it does not use, it is always on the look out for new local suppliers.

Inside the tropical rainforest bio at the Eden Project
The Eden Project features plants from around the world

"We do get some firms complaining that we should stock their products simply because they are Cornish, but we don't just sell things because they are made in Cornwall, the quality has to be there too," he says.

In addition to helping Cornish firms develop and grow, Eden also continues to work with farmers and other businesses in the developing world.

From Sri Lanka to the Seychelles, South Africa to Costa Rica, it sources some of its more tropical plants and works on projects that promote sustainable development.

But while Eden is undoubtedly helping a great many small firms to grow, what about the state of its own finances?

After initially being built for 80m, total capital investment now stands at 121.5m, made up of 50.6m of Millennium Commission funds, 38.7m of public funds, 19.6m of bank loans and 12.6m from revenues.

Critics suggest that Eden must have struggled financially in recent years, as visitor numbers have fallen back from two million people in its first year to current levels of 1.2 million.

Yet Eden insists that its conservative business plan is based on just 650,000 visitors per year, and it had a cash flow surplus of 1.2m in its most recent fiscal year.

"We always knew that visitor numbers would settle after our honeymoon period.

"And while we are always resource hungry because we want Eden to be the best it can possibly be - we are prepared to take the tough business decisions," says Ms Coley.

"For example, we decided before we first opened that we would delay the building of a third bio until we knew we would be successful."

Eden now hopes to start work on its third giant greenhouse next year.

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