Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Economy gears up for take off after great week for Northern Ireland plc

Saudi-bound: Bombardier's  CSeries jets
Saudi-bound: Bombardier's CSeries jets

What a week it's been for three of the key manufacturers within Northern Ireland plc.

Consecutive PMI (purchasing managers index) reports have shown firms are enjoying a pick-up in orders, and the report for January revealed the quickest rate of job creation since August 2006.

But it wasn't until the second half of this week that announcements from three major companies – Thales, Bombardier and Wrightbus – demonstrated that the promises of the monthly PMI could be translated into reality.

On Wednesday, missiles manufacturer Thales, which has premises in Belfast and Crossgar, announced a £100m export contract with the Indonesian Minister of Defence.

Thales employs around 500 people at its design and manufacturing facility in Belfast and at a separate factory in Crossgar.

The Indonesian deal will safeguard those posts and could lead to more orders in air defence.

But the deal also demonstrates that companies have to treat exporting as a long game.

Thales beat off competition from China, Russia and the USA to win the Indonesian business, which managing director David Beatty said had been in the pipeline for five years.

Friday brought the announcement of an even bigger order for Canadian aerospace company Bombardier, which employs nearly 5,000 at the former Shorts in east Belfast. SaudiGulf airlines placed a £733m order of 16 CSeries aircraft, the wings of which are designed and made in Northern Ireland.

The contract could ultimately be worth £1bn if SaudiGulf makes good on a provisional order for a further 10 aircraft.

And yesterday brought a third deal, this time for Wrightbus to build 301 StreetLite buses for FirstGroup, one of the UK's biggest transport companies. All three are poster children for Northern Ireland manufacturing. And while three contracts are great news for the economy and for the companies' workforces, manufacturing exports outside Europe fell by 12% during the financial year 2012/13, according to the manufacturing sales and exports survey.

That means exporters will have to work pretty hard to make up for ground lost – but if January's good news is anything to go by, they'll have no trouble doing so.

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