An Olympian effort to race ahead of rivals
Belfast-based firm H&J Martin has landed the contract to build a media centre at the London Games showing how construction industry here can diversify and thrive
When you're watching coverage of the Olympics this summer, pay close attention to where the Press conferences and media interviews are taking place.
The mammoth International Broadcast Centre will host over 20,000 journalists from around the world and much of the fit-out is being carried out by Belfast-based construction firm H&J Martin.
Henry Martin founded the firm in 1839 and 170 years later the firm, which has offices on Ormeau Road as well as in Dublin, Glasgow, London, Leeds and Bucharest, is working on one of its biggest projects yet.
Just over 40 companies have won more than £40m worth of contracts at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
A further £350m worth of contracts for products and services are still being placed to smaller companies.
H&J Martin is expected to carry out between £8m and £10m worth of work.
The media centre will be the largest of its kind in the world and will be the venue for all Press conferences and where Olympians will go to give interviews after competing.
Broadcast networks from all over the world will use the facility as a base.
Northern Ireland Secretary of State Owen Paterson congratulated the firm during a site visit last week.
"The Olympic Games is a momentous occasion in our history and I am delighted that Northern Ireland business will benefit directly from these very valuable contracts.
"This is good news for our companies and will showcase to the world the superb skills and quality workmanship displayed in Northern Ireland."
Neil Dickson, H&J Martin's regional director for London, speaking from an Olympic event in London hosted by Lord Sebastian Coe, said that the pressure was on to deliver a top class facility.
"This will be the world's biggest media space with around 23,000 people using it during the Games," he said.
"As well as the media centre which will house the broadcasters and all their equipment, we are also working on an indoor theatre where the Press conferences will be taking place.
"Anything you see being broadcast from the Olympics will either have been put together or will take place from the centre.
"We are bringing 80 people over from Northern Ireland to work on the project and we have an on-site team of an additional eight people as we have an existing office in Holborn."
Mr Dickson said that the selection process for the contract was exhaustive.
"Initially there was a large number of companies from all over the UK and we made a shortlist of six. We received assistance from Invest NI during the selection process, which was aggressive and exhaustive, and we managed to persuade the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) that we were the right firm for the job.
"We did this using our past achievements, references from our large client base and convincing them that we can meet the deadline for completion and the sustainability targets.
"We are consistent in quality and we have a good reputation for completing projects on time and within budget. Around 80% of our clients are repeat customers both in Northern Ireland and further afield."
Mr Dickson said that as the construction industry continues to stagnate in Northern Ireland, companies like H&J Martin are looking to the rest of the UK for opportunities.
"While we are obviously based in Northern Ireland and still do a lot of work in Northern Ireland, like a lot of other companies we are looking to the wider UK, particularly the south east of England and London in particular, for work and projects.
"I myself have been based in London for 10 years and have only been working for H&J Martin for a relatively short period of time and the company has been really keen to utilise any contacts and local knowledge. Being able to cultivate relationships in London is key to success on a wider scale. There has been a bit of an influx of Northern Ireland companies to London in recent times and companies are realising that they have to diversify. London is not far away, it is full of opportunities and the Olympics will create even more opportunities - Northern Ireland companies need to be pro-active if they want success."
He added that it had been professionally and personally exciting to work on such a large project. "Going to events, listening to Lord Coe speaking, it is all very inspiring and it is great to be a part of such a major part of the whole Games," he said.
"Timing is critical with this job, we need to finish on time and on target or nothing will be aired and the pressure is on."
H&J Martin employs around 281 people.
Last year it enjoyed a turnover of £73.2m and a pre-tax profit of £1.8m.
Another Northern Ireland firm, SDG Construction Technology from Co Armagh, will make acoustic panelling for the broadcast centre in a £100,000 deal.
H&J Martin's Other Projects
The Guildhall, Londonderry - restoration including stonework repairs new slate, lead and copper roof coverings.
King's Theatre, Edinburgh - essential repairs and upgrading of the building, upgrading of mechanical and electrical installations and refurbishment of the box office.
Hilton Hotel, Glasgow - upgrading 98 bedrooms, upgrading of electrical installations, new carpets, new soft furnishings, decoration.
Asda - Recently completed projects include major fit out projects at Edinburgh, Bristol, Maidstone and Teesside.
Primark - a new client for H&J Martin in 2011, fitting out a former Woolworths in Newcastle's Metro Centre, leading to the firm's second project with the retailer at Livingstone.
Siberpalais, Germany - fitting out one floor of office space within one of Germany's busiest office accommodations in just eight weeks.
Running away with the business
Other firms getting a piece of the action:
Lagan Construction - undertaking the construction of the central footbridge to the Olympic Stadium.
Boyd Bedding, Newtownstewart, Co Tyrone - will be the sole supplier of wood shavings for the equestrian area.
Logan's Travel, Dunloy, and Translink, Belfast - will supply coaches for the Games.
Cunningham Covers, Maghera - will provide huge tarpaulin covers for the beach volleyball centre at Horse Guards Parade in the centre of London.
McGrath Group, Lisburn - has provided the architectural metal work for the Olympic Stadium.
Macrete Concrete, Toomebridge - supplying the parapet support structures for bridges and roads in the Olympic Park.
But it's not all good news...
While it is certainly worth celebrating the victories for Northern Ireland companies in securing contracts at the Olympic games, our performance certainly hasn't been worthy of a medal.
Latest figures show that 43 local companies have won contracts totalling £40m but that's only 1% of the total awarded to date.
Meanwhile, we've not troubled the leaderboard in sporting terms.
The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure had a target of getting 10 Olympic and Paralympic camps to be based in Northern Ireland but have just managed to scrape three.
On the upside, Northern Ireland should benefit from an increase in tourism during the games.