In what could be perceived a wake-up call to their Southern brethren, Northern Ireland-based (NI) firms have committed to invest almost €730m in seeding, expansion, research and development (R&D), innovation and internationalisation of their businesses, claimed development agency Invest NI in what it described as the agency’s best year yet.
As well as attracting major foreign direct investment (FDI) projects such as Oracle and Citigroup, overall three-year-old agency Invest NI made more than 7,500 offers of assistance to companies and individuals.
Of these, some 3,717 were offers to businesses, representing an aggregate commitment by the agency of €196m and leveraging a total investment of €715m.
A further 3,824 offers were made to support the creation of new locally focused businesses. Invest NI also supported 22 community businesses start-ups.
There was a substantial increase in the number of FDI over the past year. Projects secured include a number of significant re-investments by major international companies including Dupont and HCL Technologies.
Businesses committed to invest more than €65m in some 200 R&D projects, including almost €28m in assistance from Invest NI.
Some €4m was spent on trade programmes involving 1,322 companies. As a result 130 companies have begun exporting for the first time and 386 companies have entered new markets.
Some 1,137 business improvement programmes were delivered, with a big increase in investment in staff training and development activities aimed at raising the skills levels of managers and workforces.
There was a significant increase in investment by companies in knowledge-related capability building, including a 68pc increase in the number of companies being assisted to install broadband.
Already, NI is approaching 100pc broadband coverage, contrasting harshly with the situation in the Republic whereby failure to rollout broadband adequately to businesses and consumers is being dogged by petty squabbles between telcos, the government and regulators and has become a subject of international embarrassment.
As well as proceeding with broadband advances, Invest NI has been building stronger stakeholder relationships and influence through its local office network and co-funding with a range of partners in New Targeting Social Need areas to further enhance the local business infrastructure across NI.
Commenting on the agency’s annual results, Professor Fabian Monds, chairman of Invest NI, said: “These are Invest NI’s best results so far. The agency has exceeded its targets in most of its key areas. We have concentrated our resources where they will generate the maximum return for the economy and have supported significant investments by local companies in R&D, staff development, operational excellence, export markets and technical and e-commerce capability. This is helping them to become more competitive in the global marketplace.
“We have also succeeded in attracting high-quality inward investments in our main target sectors of software development, financial services and ICT, including Citigroup, one of the world’s largest financial services companies and industry-leader Oracle. Our continued support for the manufacturing sector shows in the support offered to both indigenous and externally owned manufacturing companies, such as Fleming Agriculture, Moypark and Bushmills.
“NI has truly differentiated itself in the area of broadband roll out. We are the leading UK region and significantly ahead of the Republic. Foreign business investors see this as highly significant,” said Monds.
To crown a good year for the agency, the results preceded by news that Caterpillar, a global manufacturing giant that is represented in NI by FG Wilson Engineering, has announced it is to create a second shared services operation in NI. The Invest NI-backed project involves setting up an information systems shared services centre for the company’s operations and will result in 26 new IT jobs at the operation in Larne.
By John Kennedy