Prepare to broaden horizons

Tracy Meharg, Managing Director, Innovation and Capability Development, Invest Northern Ireland, looks at how northern companies are prospering abroad.

Northern Ireland products and expertise can now be found in the most unusual places. Our companies are today operating profitably in every corner of the globe.  Indeed, I never cease to be impressed by their achievements, especially smaller businesses, in the most distant markets.

Significantly, the export success stories extend to most industries, from digital audio technology, food and life sciences to engineering, software and textiles.

Our challenge is to encourage and assist a great many more companies, both large and small, to engage in international markets such as China, India, the Middle East, Africa and South America which have buoyant economies.

As regular readers of this column will be know, we offer a comprehensive programme of trade activities geared to help newcomers to exporting and existing exporters to gain essential skills and knowledge and then to explore opportunities abroad through trade missions and  trade shows. Many companies are benefiting immensely from these activities.

For example, companies on this week’s trade mission to Singapore and China will be able to see  double deck buses from Wrightbus in Ballymena on the streets of both Singapore and Hong Kong. They’ll also have landed at Singapore’s Changi International Airport on Sunday, where they probably used hot water generated by Thermomax solar tubes, now being made by Craigavon’s Kingspan Renewables, which recently signed contracts in Hong Kong and Macau for its products.

If they get an opportunity to drop into some of the leading supermarkets, such as Carrefour in Singapore and ParknShop in Hong Kong, they’ll see food from local companies such as White’s Porridge, Tandragee, Fivemiletown Cheese and fruit snacks from Kestrel Foods in Craigavon.

If they happen to turn on their hotel radios, it’s likely they will hear stations using digital technology from CAR, previously APTx, in Belfast. This industry leader has won business from China National Radio, regional stations in Shanghai and Guangzhou and MediaCorp in Singapore.

Up-market hotels including the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong and Singapore’s Fullerton have also sourced quality textiles from Liddell in Craigavon and Holywood’s Ulster Weavers.  An Antrim company, Fast Engineering has supplied its Fastank portable water storage systems for stockpiles of emergency equipment and materials for cleaning up coastal oil spills along Singapore’s coastline. Fastank has also recently supplied tanks to the Antarctic!

In Shanghai, where the companies will arrive tomorrow, Andor Technology, the Belfast specialist in scientific cameras, has a base and has supplied products to clients throughout China. Other local companies successful in China include Randox Laboratories, a leader in diagnostic technology and Delta Print and Packaging in Belfast, which continues to grow there and in India from a joint venture with a Chinese printing operation.

Our firms are also doing well in other growth markets. In India, Belfast architects Hall Black Douglas is designing a food court in one of Mumbai’s biggest shopping malls. In Kurdistan, Environmental Marketing Solutions is supplying equipment for recycling waste.

In established markets there are excellent examples of small firm successes. Cardiac emergency defibrillators from Heartsine Technology, based in Belfast, are found in the White House, Washington DC and on Airforce One, the Presidential aeroplane. Yelo in Carrickfergus has developed technology that ensures social media sites such as Facebook function efficiently. Even coffee sold in US grocery stores is supplied from Northern Ireland by Johnson’s in Lisburn.

One of the biggest buildings in Dubai, Emirates Tower, was made from concrete blocks produced by machinery from Rapid International in Tandragee. Carpets in the Burj al Arab, Dubai’s seven-star hotel, were woven by Ulster Carpets in Craigavon.

These are just a few of our export successes. There are many others. What they show is that many of our companies are prospering abroad. To rebalance and help create the 25,000 new jobs in the Programme for Government, a great many more companies need to be prepared to broaden their horizons and to follow their example.

This article appeared in the Irish News, Tuesday 29 November 2011