AS THE Assembly Member for Torfaen it was my pleasure to open Torfaen Means Business 2017 on St David’s Day at the Congress Theatre in Cwmbran, highlighting the important contribution that small and medium enterprises make to our local economy.

We welcome any company – whatever the size – that bring jobs to our area, and the Welsh Government and Torfaen council continue to work to attract businesses to the area.

Large firms now account for 10,600 jobs out of a total employment figure across Torfaen of over 28,000.

In 2016, there were 4,925 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) active in Torfaen, operating across a range of sectors from construction to the arts, and employing 17,500 people. These numbers have grown year-on-year since 2010.

With the right support, SMEs provide the entrepreneurial spark to light up our local economy, bringing jobs, confidence, wealth and growth to Torfaen.

This can only be good news for the future of the SME sector in our community and across Wales.

Torfaen Means Business brings together the Best of Torfaen, part of a national network of online community hubs where people find information about local businesses, and entrepreneurs in the area share expertise and experience.

When potential customers go to the website, they read the strapline for the organisation: “Bringing trusted Torfaen businesses and the community together.”

The two key words in that sentence are “trusted” and “community”. They encapsulate everything about the role that SMEs play in our community, whether on the high street or online.

For an SME, it is impossible to trade without earning the trust of its suppliers, competitors, employees and, of course, their customers.

As an Assembly Member, I have to earn the trust of my constituents, and of colleagues from different political persuasions, so we can work together in the Welsh Assembly, and for the benefit of Wales.

For business owners, trust becomes part of their stock in trade as much as materials, stock, or the staff they employ.

It is trust that enables us to negotiate fair deals with one another, and helps build a reputation for good products and reliable service.

We hear a lot about ‘customer retention’ and ‘customer loyalty’ - the strong relationships SMEs build that lead to new business.

As we all know, trust cannot be bought. Trust has to be earned, and that is what makes it such a valuable commodity.