Members of the A37 Business Association from the northern Netherlands forged new connections and debated key industry issues when they met local business leaders and senior council officials at a special reception hosted by ABC Council in The Palace, Armagh on Thursday 15 June.
The A37 Business Association is a unique network of leaders representing business, education, government, healthcare, culture, and defence. Its primary aim is to grow and prosper their region by strengthening co-operation between its ever-growing membership.
As part of their educational visit to NI from Wednesday 14 to Saturday 17 June, the 55-strong Dutch delegation were guests at a formal dinner in Parliament Buildings, Stormont hosted by Baroness Diane Dodds MLA and attended a welcome reception in City Hall, Belfast.
Lord Mayor Alderman Margaret Tinsley, Council Chief Executive Roger Wilson and Economic Development and Regeneration Committee Chair Councillor Kevin Savage welcomed the delegation on their inaugural visit to historic Armagh.
Key dignitaries included the Mayor of Meppel Richard Korteland, the Mayor of Hardenberg Maarten Offinga and the Vice Mayor of Borger-Odoorn Jeroen Hartsuiker.
Speaking at the start of the visit, the Lord Mayor said:
“I’m delighted to welcome members of the A37 Business Association, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, to Northern Ireland and to our beautiful borough. Given the similarities between our regions, I have no doubt today will be a rich learning experience for all involved.
By sharing ideas, we can explore new ways of capitalising on our prime locations to unlock each region’s growth potential. I’m also looking forward to hearing how we both can further develop this new international link to maximise mutual benefit.
I’m grateful to our business partners, Moy Park, Derry Group Ireland, and Long Meadow Cider, for making today’s visit more interesting, informative and industry focused.”
A37 Business Association Chairman, Martin Schoonheim, added:
“Our members are grateful to the council for their exceptional hospitality and ensuring that we gained a good insight into its vision for developing this region. We are really impressed by the strong entrepreneurial culture that is evident here and learned much from the local experts who contributed today.
We believe that we both face similar challenges in developing our economies and therefore see interesting opportunities in further developing these valuable connections in the future.”
During the visit, Brian Moreland from Moy Park spoke about how the top food company works closely with its supply partners and industry to increase innovation and efficiency and meet their sustainability goals.
Fiona Derry from leading chilled and frozen distributor, Derry Group Ireland, spoke about her company’s plans for future growth and addressed key industry issues including the importance of smart logistics planning.
Both, along with Libby Shackels from the Southern Regional College, took part in a panel discussion led by Martin Schoonheim. The panel covered many relevant economic issues including educational links, logistics, sustainability, staff recruitment and retention, changing supply chains, business growth and expansion opportunities.
Peter McKeever from Long Meadow Cider gave the backstory to how his family’s apple-growing business has blossomed over the years and invited the delegation to taste their award-winning ciders, apple juices and cider vinegars.
After enjoying a buffet of specialty local food prepared by the Yellow Door, the delegation departed for a factory tour of Ulster Carpets in Portadown where directors spoke about the company’s long history of successfully exporting superior carpets to commercial, hospitality and residential sectors worldwide.