Supporting business growth and investment across Northern Ireland
In this feature we look at the activity we undertook during 2019/2020 to support business growth, future investment and job creation across Northern Ireland. This activity will drive our outcome performance in future years.
Providing broad advice and guidance
We offer a broad range of support, advice and guidance for every business, regardless of size or sector. Our website nibusinessinfo.co.uk contains a wealth of free information with resources, tips and guides for everything from starting a business to health and safety in the workplace, to guides on Northern Ireland’s main sectors and markets overseas. Our Business Support Team, available online or by phone, provide a free advisory and signposting service, and last year helped c10,000 companies access the right information or support.
We also run seminars and workshops throughout Northern Ireland on a wide range of topics, from practical tips on exporting, to how to sell on-line, to understanding how to protect your brand, product and intellectual property. Again open to every business, in 2019/2020 we had over 2,800 delegates attend one of these free events.
Support for small businesses
Of the nearly 3,000 offers of financial support we made to businesses in 2019/2020, 91 per cent was to a small or medium enterprise (SME). Some of that support was to help with job creation, with a 15 per cent increase on the previous year on the number of jobs SMEs plan to create. Unfortunately, the post-COVID reality is that some of these plans may now not progress to the same scale, or might take longer to implement.
Job creation is only a small proportion of how we support companies to achieve growth. Helping companies invest in innovation and skills to remain competitive, or to explore or export to new markets, are important parts of our work. We have broad range of support and tools to help with this – such as our highly successful Innovation Voucher which provides grants of up £5,000 to help SMEs tap into expert research advice at one of our many colleges or universities. It has proved such as successful scheme that in April we committed a further £4.5million to support innovation voucher projects over the next five years.
Our trade support ranges from in-market advice, or help with visits to potential new markets, or industry trade shows to help sell your products or services. In 2019/2020 we helped 135 companies sell outside Northern Ireland for the first time, and 300 to enter a new market.
We also launched a new Graduate to Export programme which has paired 10 graduates with 10 companies to spend 18 months researching a target market and developing a market entry strategy on behalf of the company. As part of the programme graduates will also study towards a Post Graduate Diploma in International Marketing delivered by Ulster University and Institute of Export & International Trade .
Attracting Inward investment
While 92 per cent of our offers were to locally owned companies, 2019/2020 was a successful year for inward investment into Northern Ireland. We attracted 28 new external investors, up 65 per cent on the previous year, the potential to create over 1,400 new jobs in the coming years.
Sensee was the largest of these projects. This unique project will see the creation of 300 work from home contact centre roles right across NI, providing opportunities for those facing barriers to work as a result of location, personal or family circumstances.
Size isn’t everything when it comes to investment. Every project brings new opportunities for Northern Ireland – both creating jobs, enhancing our reputation as an investment location in key sectors such as cyber or ICT, and developing and building the skills based in Northern Ireland.
When we began the process of expanding our team, we were eager to create a base where we had access to a strong talent pool of software developers; we believe Londonderry is the right place to find the talent we need.
Cathal Murtagh, Chief Operating Officer of Deveire
The US remains our top source of inward investment and during the year we announced a number of large first-time investment projects from companies including Aflac , Contrast Security and ESO Solutions .
As well as attracting new investors, we also supported 201 expansion projects by externally owned companies, just over 60 per cent of which were outside Belfast.
Over 70 per cent of the offers we made in 2019/2020 were to companies outside Belfast. This is comparable, though slightly down on previous years, which saw a five year high of 76 per cent in 2015/16 and 2016/17.
Some regions saw impressive growth in 2019/2020. In Causeway Coast & Glens total investment secured through projects we are supporting has increased by 20 per cent on last year (from £20.53m to £24.58m). Antrim and Newtownabbey council area, saw a 36 per cent increase in total investment secured. Even more impressive, was a 233 per cent increase in the number of new jobs we provided support towards, based on the previous year.
In Armagh, Banbridge & Craigavon DC, the amount of assistance we offered to businesses in the area is up 99 per cent on the previous year (£14.99m compared to £7.53m). Fermanagh & Omagh assistance offered is up 42 per cent on last year, and Mid Ulster increased by 44 per cent.
In addition to directly supporting businesses, we also provide funding to councils to run programmes and initiatives to help drive economic development in their area. Over the last three years £13.7m* of funding has been provided towards 36 projects under the Local Economic Development Measure.
We also work closely with the council teams across Northern Ireland to help them develop and deliver their community plans, supporting them to promote and grow local businesses, deliver against local economic targets to increase business creation and jobs, local growth and international investment.
We are always eager to help companies realise their ambitions and it is encouraging to see businesses actively seeking support for growth projects.
For a breakdown of how we have supported businesses and investment in the regions, select the area you are interested in from the map below:
*This support is part funded under the European Regional Development Fund under the Investment for Growth & Jobs Northern Ireland (2014-2020) Programme.