THE Michelin Development Fund has helped create 500 jobs in the east of Scotland since being set up in 2002 by the French tyremaker, which employs 900 in Dundee.

Michelin, the biggest supplier of car, truck and bus tyres to road users in the UK, is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the initiative which embraces businesses in the factory's catchment area stretching from Cupar to Arbroath. It provides funding and expertise to SMEs looking to expand into Europe and the US, and has helped more than 30 firms develop their operations, with loans totalling over £1 million.

Michelin said: "The resulting impact on job creation in the local area has been significant, with the funds directly leading to 500 new positions in the past decade."

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In addition to finance in the form of unsecured loans from £5000, the fund offers SMEs access to Michelin's in-house experts in areas from health and safety to recruitment, and sales training to productivity improvement.

Loans can be used for projects linked to job creation, including the purchase of capital equipment, process improvement, working capital and marketing, by firms with fewer than 250 employees.

Mike Cole, director of Michelin Development, said: "Michelin has always been involved in supporting the local Dundee community but we launched the development fund specifically to help the regeneration of local business communities and in particular, to create quality, sustainable jobs.

"The Development Fund has helped many firms gain vital access to loans, which are ultimately unlikely to have been available through traditional means."

DC Lighting Services, a 20-year-old Dundee family business which supplies floodlighting systems for Scottish Premier League and non-professional football grounds in Scotland and the UK, is the latest beneficiary of a low-interest £15,000 loan from the fund.

Doug Cree, managing director, said: "The fund has enabled us to explore new industries, including tendering for subsea and petrochemical electrical installations which, as a speciality offering, could be extremely lucrative."

He said one job had already been created. "The money has also allowed us to provide additional training to our workforce in areas that will help us to remain competitive and where we can reduce costs," he said.

Graham Douglas, business development manager for Michelin Development in Dundee, said the fund's purpose was "to help companies such as DC Lighting maximise potential opportunities to ensure their future success and stability".