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Despite Michelein jobs bodyblow, signs are positive for manufacturing in Northern Ireland

By Paul Gosling

Published 04/11/2015

The shutdown was greeted with dismay by Damian Hegarty
The shutdown was greeted with dismay by Damian Hegarty
The shutdown was greeted with dismay by Michael McGaughey
The shutdown was greeted with dismay by David McIlveen
Press Eye - Northern Ireland - 3rd November 2015 Photographer: Stephen Hamilton General views Michelin factory in Ballymena, Michelin, Ballymena, Bad news expected ahead of staff meeting today. The company has not said what the meeting is for, but political sources have told the BBC "bad news" is expected. The factory, which has been operating in the town since 1969, employs about 1,000 people.
Press Eye - Northern Ireland - 3rd November 2015 Photographer: Stephen Hamilton Michelin worker comes to terms with loosing his job at the Ballymena factory. General views Michelin factory in Ballymena, Michelin, Ballymena, Bad news expected ahead of staff meeting today. The company has not said what the meeting is for, but political sources have told the BBC "bad news" is expected. The factory, which has been operating in the town since 1969, employs about 1,000 people.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 3/11/2015 Workers at The Michelin tyre factory in Ballymena, County Antrim, receive news that the factory will close in 2018 with the loss of 860 jobs. The Ballymena factory produced its first tyre in December 1969 and produces about one million bus and truck tyres per year, The Michelin company have been warning for a number of years about the threat to the future of the Ballymena plant caused by high energy costs. Picture Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 3/11/2015 Workers at The Michelin tyre factory in Ballymena, County Antrim, receive news that the factory will close in 2018 with the loss of 860 jobs. The Ballymena factory produced its first tyre in December 1969 and produces about one million bus and truck tyres per year, The Michelin company have been warning for a number of years about the threat to the future of the Ballymena plant caused by high energy costs. Picture Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 3/11/2015 Workers at The Michelin tyre factory in Ballymena, County Antrim, receive news that the factory will close in 2018 with the loss of 860 jobs. The Ballymena factory produced its first tyre in December 1969 and produces about one million bus and truck tyres per year, The Michelin company have been warning for a number of years about the threat to the future of the Ballymena plant caused by high energy costs. Picture Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 3/11/2015 Workers at The Michelin tyre factory in Ballymena, County Antrim, receive news that the factory will close in 2018 with the loss of 860 jobs. The Ballymena factory produced its first tyre in December 1969 and produces about one million bus and truck tyres per year, The Michelin company have been warning for a number of years about the threat to the future of the Ballymena plant caused by high energy costs. Picture Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 3/11/2015 Workers at The Michelin tyre factory in Ballymena, County Antrim, receive news that the factory will close in 2018 with the loss of 860 jobs. The Ballymena factory produced its first tyre in December 1969 and produces about one million bus and truck tyres per year, The Michelin company have been warning for a number of years about the threat to the future of the Ballymena plant caused by high energy costs. Picture Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 3/11/2015 Workers at The Michelin tyre factory in Ballymena, County Antrim, receive news that the factory will close in 2018 with the loss of 860 jobs. The Ballymena factory produced its first tyre in December 1969 and produces about one million bus and truck tyres per year, The Michelin company have been warning for a number of years about the threat to the future of the Ballymena plant caused by high energy costs. Picture Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 3/11/2015 Workers at The Michelin tyre factory in Ballymena, County Antrim, receive news that the factory will close in 2018 with the loss of 860 jobs. The Ballymena factory produced its first tyre in December 1969 and produces about one million bus and truck tyres per year, The Michelin company have been warning for a number of years about the threat to the future of the Ballymena plant caused by high energy costs. Picture Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 3/11/2015 Workers at The Michelin tyre factory in Ballymena, County Antrim, receive news that the factory will close in 2018 with the loss of 860 jobs. The Ballymena factory produced its first tyre in December 1969 and produces about one million bus and truck tyres per year, The Michelin company have been warning for a number of years about the threat to the future of the Ballymena plant caused by high energy costs. Picture Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 3/11/2015 Workers at The Michelin tyre factory in Ballymena, County Antrim, receive news that the factory will close in 2018 with the loss of 860 jobs. The Ballymena factory produced its first tyre in December 1969 and produces about one million bus and truck tyres per year, The Michelin company have been warning for a number of years about the threat to the future of the Ballymena plant caused by high energy costs. Picture Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 3/11/2015 Workers at The Michelin tyre factory in Ballymena, County Antrim, receive news that the factory will close in 2018 with the loss of 860 jobs. The Ballymena factory produced its first tyre in December 1969 and produces about one million bus and truck tyres per year, The Michelin company have been warning for a number of years about the threat to the future of the Ballymena plant caused by high energy costs. Picture Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 3/11/2015 Workers at The Michelin tyre factory in Ballymena, County Antrim, receive news that the factory will close in 2018 with the loss of 860 jobs. The Ballymena factory produced its first tyre in December 1969 and produces about one million bus and truck tyres per year, The Michelin company have been warning for a number of years about the threat to the future of the Ballymena plant caused by high energy costs. Picture Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 3/11/2015 Workers at The Michelin tyre factory in Ballymena, County Antrim, receive news that the factory will close in 2018 with the loss of 860 jobs. The Ballymena factory produced its first tyre in December 1969 and produces about one million bus and truck tyres per year, The Michelin company have been warning for a number of years about the threat to the future of the Ballymena plant caused by high energy costs. Picture Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 3/11/2015 Workers at The Michelin tyre factory in Ballymena, County Antrim, receive news that the factory will close in 2018 with the loss of 860 jobs. The Ballymena factory produced its first tyre in December 1969 and produces about one million bus and truck tyres per year, The Michelin company have been warning for a number of years about the threat to the future of the Ballymena plant caused by high energy costs. Picture Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 3/11/2015 Workers at The Michelin tyre factory in Ballymena, County Antrim, receive news that the factory will close in 2018 with the loss of 860 jobs. The Ballymena factory produced its first tyre in December 1969 and produces about one million bus and truck tyres per year, The Michelin company have been warning for a number of years about the threat to the future of the Ballymena plant caused by high energy costs. Picture Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Staff discuss the impact of the announcement at the Michelin tyre factory in Ballymena. Picture Presseye Jonathan Porter.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 3rd November 2015 General views of the Michelin Tyre factory in Ballymena, Co. Antrim, where workers have been called to a meeting. The company has been producing tyres in the town since 1969 employing over 1,000 people. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEyePress Eye - Northern Ireland - 3rd November 2015 Photographer: Stephen Hamilton General views Michelin factory in Ballymena, Michelin, Ballymena, Bad news expected ahead of staff meeting today. The company has not said what the meeting is for, but political sources have told the BBC "bad news" is expected. The factory, which has been operating in the town since 1969, employs about 1,000 people
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 3rd November 2015 General views of the Michelin Tyre factory in Ballymena, Co. Antrim, where workers have been called to a meeting. The company has been producing tyres in the town since 1969 employing over 1,000 people. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEyePress Eye - Northern Ireland - 3rd November 2015 Photographer: Stephen Hamilton General views Michelin factory in Ballymena, Michelin, Ballymena, Bad news expected ahead of staff meeting today. The company has not said what the meeting is for, but political sources have told the BBC "bad news" is expected. The factory, which has been operating in the town since 1969, employs about 1,000 people
Ballymena town centre
All the breast-beating by our politicians won't get away from the fact that Michelin yesterday announced that it was restructuring its European operations and we lost out

Ballymena has for generations been one of Northern Ireland's manufacturing heartlands.

That picture is rapidly changing. The news that 860 jobs are to go with the closure of the Michelin plant comes not long after it was announced that JTI - formerly Gallaher's - is departing the town at a cost of nearly 900 jobs.

A further 500 people may become unemployed in Michelin's supply chain and distribution network, believe trade unions. In total through the two closures more than £70m looks set to go from the local economy annually - just from the loss of employee incomes. The service sector will be badly hit and Ballymena's status as a retail centre will be damaged.

There is rare cross-party agreement on the impact. "Apocalyptic", said the DUP's Ian Paisley jnr. "Devastating", suggested Sinn Fein's Daithí McKay.

Michelin's factory is to close in 2018, JTI's over the next two years. Unless there is some unexpected good news the Ballymena area will be hit badly by a steep rise in unemployment. The town sits in the Mid and East Antrim Council district, where currently 2,300 people claim unemployment-related benefits. That is 2.7% of the population and below the Northern Ireland average.

But add in the 2,160 people now scheduled to lose work and unemployment could nearly double. The area will potentially go from low unemployment to one of NI's three worst blackspots.

As with steel - an industry where thousands of jobs are going in Britain - the mix of global overproduction and lower cost competition is killing Northern Ireland's tyre production. High energy and distribution costs are factors.

The big question is whether manufacturing in Northern Ireland has a future. Hundreds of other manufacturing jobs have been lost in recent years, including at Caterpillar, Bombadier and Quinn's.

Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI, insists the signs are positive - especially in Ballymena, home to Wrightbus and where manufacturing is responsible for 27.5% of jobs in and around the town. "Manufacturing has been growing over the last couple of years - in many ways it's the star performer in our (Northern Ireland) economy," he said. Growth has been noticeable, particularly in the transportation and food sectors.

That good news is important not just for Ballymena, but also to Northern Ireland as a whole. With too little wealth in our economy we have to export to attract other people's money. And it can be difficult to export services. While tourism is a valuable services export, much of the work is poorly paid.

By contrast, many of the jobs we are losing in manufacturing - including at Michelin - are well paid. And well-paid jobs are something Northern Ireland could do with more of, not less.

Belfast Telegraph

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