Portadown company, Fire Escapes Ltd, which manufactures and sells drop down fire escape ladders for homes, has landed a £250,000 contract with a leading hardware distributor in the Republic of Ireland.

The contract is the first big export order for the company which was set up just a few months ago with assistance from Invest Northern Ireland’s Growth Start Programme.

Managing Director of Fire Escapes Ltd, Charles Woods, had spotted a gap in the market for rigid frame fire ladders and after extensive market research approached Invest NI to get help in setting up a manufacturing business.

Working closely with a client executive from Invest NI’s Southern Local Office in Newry, Mr Woods drew up a business plan, identified suitable premises and established the resources required to set up and run the company.

Invest NI also helped him refine the design of the ladder and its components through its Innovation Credit Scheme which is delivered by the Manufacturing Technology Partnership.

Mr Woods explains: “I was aware that there was no product like this available to domestic homeowners and with heightened public awareness of the need for products such as this, the market is growing.

“The assistance from Invest NI both in product design and through the Growth Start programme, enabled us to set up production quickly and to employ a sales and marketing manager to carry out extensive marketing activity in our target markets of Britain and the Republic of Ireland.

“We’re absolutely delighted at getting this contract so soon after setting up the company. It reinforces our belief in this product and we can now proceed confidently with our business development plans".

The Growth Start programme supports new businesses that have the potential to export a product or service outside Northern Ireland and is delivered primarily via Invest NI’s Local Office Network. In its first year Invest Northern Ireland exceeded its target for the number of businesses established under its Growth Start programme helping over 100 new export focused businesses to set up in Northern Ireland between April 2002 and March 2003.

Graham Davis, Director of Local Economic Development in Invest NI, explains that supporting the establishment of export focused businesses like Fire Escapes Ltd, is a key objective for the agency.

“Increasing the level of export sales by Northern Ireland companies is vital if we are to achieve long term economic growth and wealth creation. Supporting new companies that are focused on export markets is therefore a priority for Invest NI.

“In our first year we invested some £3 million in supporting new businesses like Fire Escapes Ltd, which has significant external sales potential and is keen to explore overseas opportunities. Invest NI will continue to work closely with the company to support its further development.”