In the last year, with Invest Northern Ireland’s support, companies in Northern Ireland have committed to invest almost £0.5 billion to set up, develop their capabilities, innovate and become more international.
The results of the agency’s third year, says Professor Fabian Monds, chairman of Invest NI, are gratifying not just because of the level of financial investment but also because of the quality of projects.
“These are Invest NI’s best results so far. The agency has exceeded its targets in most of its key areas. We have concentrated our resources where they will generate the maximum return for the economy and have supported significant investments by local companies in research and development, staff development, operational excellence, export markets and technical and e-commerce capability. This is helping them to become more competitive in the global marketplace.
“We have also succeeded in attracting high quality inward investments in our main target sectors of software development, financial services and ICT, including Citigroup, the world’s largest financial services company, and industry leader Oracle. Our continued support for the manufacturing sector shows in the support offered to both indigenous and externally owned manufacturing companies, such as Fleming Agriculture, Moypark and Bushmills.
Highlights from the year include:
•Overall, we made over 7500 offers of assistance to companies and individuals.
•Of these, 3717 were offers to businesses, representing an aggregate Invest NI commitment of £135 million, and leveraging a total investment of £492 million.
•A further 3824 offers were made to support the creation of new locally focused businesses. Invest NI also supported 22 community businesses start-ups.
•There was a substantial increase in the number of foreign direct investments over last year. Projects secured include a number of significant re-investments by major international companies including Dupont and HCL Technologies.
•Business committed to invest over £45 million in over 200 R&D projects, including almost £19 million in assistance from Invest NI.
•Over £3million was spent on trade programmes involving 1322 companies. As a result 130 companies have begun exporting for the first time and 386 companies have entered new markets.
•1137 business improvement programmes were delivered, with a big increase in investment in staff training and development activities aimed at raising the skills levels of managers and workforces.
•There was a significant increase in investment by companies in knowledge related capability building, including a 68% increase in the number of companies being assisted to install broadband.
•We have been building stronger stakeholder relationships and influence through our local office network and co-funding, with a range of partners in New Targeting Social Need (NTSN) areas, to further enhance the local business infrastructure.
“Northern Ireland has truly differentiated itself in the area of broadband roll out. We are the leading UK region and significantly ahead of the Republic of Ireland. Foreign business investors see this as highly significant,” says Prof Monds.
The year in context
Leslie Morrison, chief executive of Invest NI, said:
“I believe we can be justifiably proud of what we achieved, not just last year, but indeed in our first three years. We have secured aggregate investment commitments of some £1.5 billion; 36 new inward investment projects from first time international investors; £228 million invested in R&D and almost 8,000 new businesses.
“We have faced a challenging global economy, and reorganized the merged agencies. While so doing, we set ourselves tough targets, delivered on most and exceeded many.
“Our new corporate plan, which focuses on three key economic drivers: being entrepreneurial, being innovative and being international, sets even more demanding targets for the next three years. Its overarching aim is to increase the wealth of the Northern Ireland economy, the key long-term measure being gross value added per capita.”
Innovation remains at the core of Invest NI’s vision. “Innovation must permeate all business activities, from research and development through to customer service,” said Leslie Morrison. “Our support is wide ranging and includes research and development, design, business improvement, and programmes to improve the performance of technology, environmental compliance, people and processes.
“I’m delighted that, during the year, we supported an investment of £37 million in innovation via our core R&D programmes, Start and Compete. This is a 75% increase over 2003/04. Examples are a food testing kit based on the latest sensor technology, and development of a cutting-edge system for studying poultry disease.
“Strengthening our R&D base continues to be vital, our main aim is the provision and commercialisation of that research. Our Proof of Concept Fund offered assistance to 30 university-based research and development projects that have a good prospect of commercial exploitation.”
Innovation in the agri-food industry was emphasised in the Fit for Market report, an important initiative being delivered in partnership with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
We saw a 38% increase in locally focused businesses created with Invest NI support. Ninety-two export and/or globally focused start-up businesses were also supported. We committed significant resources to boosting interest in entrepreneurship. The second phase of the Go for It campaign, which focuses on changing attitudes to risk taking, got underway. During the year over 60,000 students undertook entrepreneurship modules and training.
“We aim is to increase entrepreneurial activity in Northern Ireland. The 2004 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Report confirmed that entrepreneurial activity has improved since 2002. Invest NI’s support for new business does not end at start-up and we offered £42 million to local companies for expansion and investments in marketing, information systems and staff development. This has been helped by strong delivery partnerships between our local office and enterprise networks,” said Leslie Morrison.
Building trading networks with other countries is a key contributor to economic success.
“With such a small domestic market, wealth creation depends on our companies being international in outlook,” says Leslie Morrison.
“We have had the highest ever level of inward investment projects and through a wide range of over 50 trade activities in international markets, we have supported over 500 companies to penetrate overseas markets and build strategic business alliances.
“Initiatives such as Opportunity India, launched during the year, identify both trade and strategic alliance opportunities and are helping local companies to harness the enormous business potential of the emerging economies.”
Invest NI also supported the creation of international links by helping establish nine new air routes, five of which became operational during the year with the others to come online in the next few months. Among these was the first direct air link to the US to be operated by Continental Airlines.
A focus on quality
Attracting and creating high value jobs, supporting the development of skills, stimulating higher levels of new product development and encouraging more companies to engage in research and development have strengthened our economy.
“Northern Ireland is enjoying a growing international reputation as a premier place to invest and the quality of names attracted here has never been better,” says Leslie Morrison.