Private sector growth will be led by export companies

It is encouraging that, alongside major companies servicing the local consumer market, this year’s Top 100 includes many manufacturers and service providers which have attained their place through a very strong and clear strategy of export-led growth.

There is a very broad consensus that it is only through embedding innovation throughout our business base, growing our local companies to scale, increasing our export base and attracting inward investment that we will increase the size, competitiveness and value of our private sector.

These were the central elements of Invest NI’s 2008-11 Corporate Plan and the fact that this has recently been fully delivered is a clear sign of the progress that has been made, despite the extremely challenging economic conditions which have prevailed in recent years.

From food processors to companies operating at the most advanced aspects of life sciences, the Top 100 reflects the diversity of our business base and the breadth of companies which Invest NI works with.

The £108m support Invest NI provided to companies last year alone, resulted in total investment commitments of almost £640m, or nearly £2m every day, and led to companies committing to create or safeguard 6,700 jobs, generating £170m in new wages and salaries.

Overall, the vast majority of Invest NI activity is with the local business base, with almost 3,000 separate offers of support being to locally-owned businesses covering both financial and advisory support to help companies develop across a range of areas such as skills, ICT, supply chains, technical support and energy efficiency. Alongside our support to existing businesses we also helped over 3,250 new local businesses to start up.  Although the majority of these play an important role in servicing the local market, we will work with those which display the potential to grow and export their goods and services.

With a domestic regional economy that is too small to support the growth of the private sector, helping and encouraging more of our local companies to raise their sights and broaden their ambition is pivotal to our future economic wellbeing, whether it is through help with market research, workshops to develop those all important international selling skills, or taking part in an extensive programme of trade missions.  Last year, 190 businesses took part in their first trade mission and a further 585 sought to diversify into new markets. Our trade missions included countries as diverse as Kurdistan, Russia, Brazil, Estonia, Sri Lanka and the USA and many participants have already reported having won firm orders.

This is hugely important, as companies which are export-active tend to be better placed for sustainable growth through greater sophistication, higher levels of innovation and a higher level of competitiveness.

Also included in the Top 100 and Top 50 Employers lists are a number of our inward investors, which make a massive contribution to the local economy, not only through direct employment, but also in terms of the supply chain opportunities they provide and the expertise and international reach they bring. The past three years have seen some 130 inward investments promoting over 7,500 new jobs here, with an increasing focus on those key sectors which offer high value, quality employment opportunities – Financial Services, Business Services and Technology, ICT and Renewables.

As a result, we have many more companies which are embracing innovation to develop the products and services which give them a competitive advantage in international markets, helping them win the contracts that can drive future growth and the creation of more, and better paying, jobs. In short, we have many more companies which are increasingly well placed to join the Top 100 next year, and beyond.

This article appeared in Ulster Business, August 2011 edition.