Alastair Hamilton, Invest NI's Chief Executive on Northern Ireland manufacturing.
Northern Ireland manufacturing is rich in knowledge, skills and experience, founded on a strong heritage.
Our large number of manufacturing businesses across a broad range of disciplines – from food to chemicals, pharmaceutical to transport equipment – account for 16 per cent of all local economic output and for one in every nine local jobs.
Manufacturing businesses have experienced challenging times of late as the result of the global downturn, and cheaper production costs and exports coming out of low cost economies. However, in some areas, we are seeing strong signs of recovery. Forecasts predict substantial growth in aerospace, agri-food and sustainable energy by 2020.
Local manufacturing output has recovered almost 20 per cent since its low point reached in the third quarter of 2009 – almost three times the growth of UK manufacturing output over the same period.
That said other manufacturing sub-sectors continue to experience real challenges resulting in the recent loss of some large manufacturing employers within Northern Ireland.
This trend is not unique to Northern Ireland. In recent months we have seen significant job losses and plant closures announced by the steel industry across Great Britain.
There have been some claims that Invest Northern Ireland has ‘thrown in the towel’ in supporting manufacturing in Northern Ireland. This could not be further from the truth.
Since the start of this Programme for Government in 2011 Invest NI has provided a total of £254.6m of assistance to manufacturing firms in Northern Ireland, more than is provided to service based businesses. This support has helped promote nearly 12,000 new jobs and safe guard a further 1,400. This has helped contribute to over £1.7bn of investment into the local economy.
These results are the outworking of our strategic approach to supporting manufacturing which focusses on growing local businesses, and expanding current investors.
Growing and strengthening our indigenous manufacturing businesses is at the core of our strategy. Recent examples of manufacturing projects supported by Invest NI include 87 new skilled jobs at McAuley Precision and McAuley Fabrication, 37 jobs and a £2.2m investment by JJ Loughran in Cookstown, and 23 jobs at Alternative Heat in Castlewellan.
Invest NI has a longstanding relationship with Ballymena company Wrights Group, which currently employs around 2,000 people globally. With our support the company is investing over £10m in research and development and is creating 130 new jobs. This support for our home-grown businesses has resulted in over £900m of investment and nearly 8,300 jobs since 2011.
Alongside this we work closely with our existing international manufacturing companies to seek expansions projects. This too has borne success with large expansions by internationally owned manufacturing businesses including Terex, Ryobi, Terumo, Schrader and Seagate.
Invest NI also supported the £30million expansion by RLC creating 80 high quality jobs and a new state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing factory at the Global Point site in Newtownabbey.
These foreign investments were hard fought and won for Northern Ireland against stiff competition from the companies’ other sites. Since 2011, we have supported £791m of investment in manufacturing by foreign owned companies, helping to create over 3,500 new jobs. So to say we are not proactively seeking foreign investment in manufacturing is untrue.
In the case of manufacturing investments we know that there are other regions and geographies with stronger selling points so we have focussed efforts on pitching for investments where we know Northern Ireland has a strong chance of winning. The introduction of a reduced rate of Corporation Tax in 2018 will change this, meaning Northern Ireland will have a strong combination of tax, talent and value. It is hoped that this will open up new opportunities for manufacturing investment into Northern Ireland. Rest assured, we will be working to make the most of these opportunities and will be proactively pitching for new manufacturing based FDI projects.
Northern Ireland is a global leader in many manufacturing sub-sectors, such as aerospace technology or materials handling and Invest NI will continue to promote these strengths at every opportunity.
The impact of the loss of large manufacturing companies to Northern Ireland cannot be downplayed. For the Ballymena area this impact will be strongly felt in particular.
As Chief Executive of Invest NI I would like to reassure manufacturing companies, our elected representatives, the Unions, and the people personally affected by recent job losses that we will continue to use every tool available to us to win investments, help local companies and support growth across Northern Ireland. We most certainly have not thrown in the towel.