Eastern promise opens many doors
The eyes of the world are on China at the moment, especially after that astonishing opening ceremony at the Olympics.
Leaving aside the politics — and the message sent out by such odious incidents as replacing a child singer with a young mimer who was regarded as better looking — the fact is that China is determined to make the most of its opportunity at the centre of the world stage.
China is one of the so-called BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) that were named by Goldman Sachs in 2003 as developing countries with the greatest economic potential.
All of these countries are developing at different rates, but what they have in common is large populations with increasing disposable incomes — and none more so than China.
For companies in the North West there are more opportunities than ever to target investment at such areas of the world that would produce the best possible returns.
Many UK and Irish firms are targeting the likes of the BRIC nations and also other countries in the Pacific and Indonesian areas. Many, if not most, are high tech firms, who realise that it costs less to invest in developing parts of the world than it does in western European countries. And as these countries have massive populations — potential consumers who want to spend their rising income on goods — the returns could be considerable.
But the same principles apply whether working at the modern, high-tech end of the market or more traditional sectors, so long as account is taken of local tastes and culture.
Northern Ireland companies that want to infiltrate developing economies but feel they don't have the know-how can find assistance quite easily.
Invest NI is continuously prompting firms here to target overseas markets, and offers a range of services to help them do this, so more firms should be availing of the opportunities to direct their investment, products or services overseas.
And huge amounts of cash to invest are not necessary if companies target markets carefully and pay due respect to local culture.
In the Derry area, extra help is available for companies wishing to do business in China.
With walls coming down quickly now between the West and the communist country, new markets are opening up in a land that has a staggering population of just over 1.3 billion people — that's around 20% of the world's population who want to spend money on new goods.
And Derry could also benefit from the expertise and products of Chinese firms.
China is becoming more interdependent on an international economy and Derry-based company North West Marketing was quick to spot the new opportunities offered by the east, and opened an office in Shenyang, seeing that city as a gateway, just as Derry is an ideal location for exploring opportunities in Europe.
North West Marketing arranged seminars to introduce Chinese companies to the European market and also offered them incubation space on the main Derry to Donegal corridor.
North West Marketing also offers a service to Irish businesses that includes seminars, training on issues such as identifying opportunities, Chinese business etiquette, legal and tax issues, and familiarisation visits.
There are major opportunities for small businesses, just as much as for larger firms. And, as North West Marketing can show, while there may be obstacles to opening up trade initiatives with developing economies for small businesses especially, they are far from insurmountable.
The possible openings for companies don't begin and end in China, or even in the other BRIC countries.
In 2005 Goldman Sachs also identified the next 11 developing countries — Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, South Korea, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Turkey and Vietnam. These enjoy rapidly growing populations combined with significant industrial capacity or potential.
Therefore, they also offer growing consumer markets. Indonesia alone has a population of 229m people and, like the other 10 countries, it will continue to grow so any investments now could continue to pay dividends for many years.
But for the moment, China is in the spotlight and it looks set for a boom.
During its Olympics opening ceremony, China told the tale of its past and how it is moving into the present. It also tried to show the world as one and that’s a message that businesses could embrace.
With China seemingly determined to open its doors further, North West Marketing’s vision will now surely reap great rewards as ambitious local firms make the most of these new opportunities.