Wed 16th Jul 2014
May 14: The development of a meaning
The past few weeks have seen some brilliant news for the local economy. As a result of a string of immensely encouraging new investment announcements orchestrated by Invest Northern Ireland and involving inward investors and indigenous companies, the prospects look much brighter than they did when I began my two-year stint as President of the Northern Ireland Chamber. Unemployment, for instance, continues to fall.
I will hand over the Presidential chain at the end of the month with Northern Ireland’s biggest business organisation in fine fettle, stronger than ever and ready to make an even greater contribution to the efforts by the Executive and Invest NI to transform the local economy into one driven by a private sector that’s more confident and with a sharper focus on international markets.
One of the most important initiative launched during my term was the Growing Something Brilliant conference last June. Our second Growing Something Brilliant, generously sponsored by SSE Airtricity, will take place at the end of the month and will feature an inspirational address by Sean O’Driscoll about the development of Glen Dimplex, which has significant operations in Northern Ireland, into one of the world’s most innovative and successful exporters of heating systems.
Glen Dimplex is a remarkable success story, a tremendous role model in line with the Chamber’s longstanding commitment to encourage and facilitate business growth here through greater investment in innovation, leadership and engagement with international markets.
We anticipate a full house again and intend to shape the deliberations into a manifesto to influence the Executive as it develops policies to accelerate the growth of small businesses, the lifeblood of every economy, especially in global markets. The event is open to members and the wider business community, because we need to garner the opinions and support from as wide a base as practicable. It’s also our intention to use the conference as a sounding board to assist our work to create an imaginative and practical Export Strategy that will help to drive sales of manufactured goods and expert services aboard at a much faster pace.
Such a strategy is essential if we are to bridge the sizeable gap with other parts of the UK in crucially important areas such as productivity, skills and, of course, employment. Encouragingly our move out of recession is being led by long established industries such as engineering and food and newer sectors such as ICT and life sciences. Our manufacturing and services sectors, according to the most recent report by PwC, have shown nine months of continuous improvement. Output growth expectations in the three months to February grew faster than a number of other UK regions and matched the overall UK growth for the period.
Construction remains depressed. Food, of course, remains a key manufacturer that contributes over £4 billion to the local economy and has a genuine reach across the province. The food sector strategy highlighted the opportunities from working together to embrace the global market. Food and aerospace each generate over £1 billion a year in export sales. Machinery and transport equipment also contribute hugely to the wellbeing of the local economy.
I’ve had opportunities to meet many companies with immense potential during my time as President of the Chamber and to explore how best we can help them to prosper in both short and long terms. I’ve been impressed by their dedication and gritty determination to succeed especially in global markets.
I am confident that we have to talented leaders and innovative companies to help regenerate the local economy and create greater prosperity and stability here.