It took the tragedy of the IRA bomb that devastated the heart of Manchester to trigger large-scale regeneration in the North-west.
Just yards from John Korzeniewski's office above the Arndale shopping centre, the 1996 blast destroyed 75,000 square metres of retail and office space.
Eight years later, the city's vibrant heart beats again. Upmarket department stores such as Harvey Nichols and Selfridges are busy, and plush apartments with pound;1 million price tags are not uncommon.
But Manchester's affluence, Mr Korzeniewski said, is only skin deep. All 10 local authorities in Greater Manchester fall in the top third most deprived areas in the country.
"What we see is a massive conurbation with a prosperous city centre, but around it are areas of extreme poverty.
"The people shopping in the city centre tend to live in Cheshire, the Surrey of the North-west," he said. "It is very different from the rest of the region.
"Cheshire's challenges arise from the consequences of prosperity. The 14 to 19 strategy is all about opening up vocational routes by getting schools and colleges to work together. But everybody there is aiming to go to university, so getting vocational ideals on to the agenda is difficult."
He said the Commonwealth Games of 2002 gave Manchester a big fillip, and he hopes that Liverpool will receive a similar boost when it is the European City of Culture in 2008.
"There will be thousands of visitors in Liverpool who will need servicing, and we have to make sure we have the skills in place in hospitality and catering."
"There has been some regeneration of Liverpool around the marina in Toxteth, but nothing like Manchester."
Mr Korzeniewski must also consider rural Cumbria. "In Manchester, it is easy to get schools and colleges to work together, because they are near each other. The kinds of things we do in a city we can't do in Cumbria.
Cumbria has nearly half the land mass of the North-west region, but a tiny population."
Skills in the nuclear industry are also a priority. "We are working with the North West Regional Development Agency to develop a national nuclear academy," he said. "We need to ensure that we can provide the necessary skills. The nuclear material will be there for hundreds of years and it will need to be managed."