Belfast Telegraph

Innovation sector grows by 20% in three years: report

By Margaret Canning

The so-called 'knowledge economy' of firms which rely on innovation and ingenuity is growing faster in Northern Ireland than in the rest of the UK, a report said today.

There was growth of 20% between 2009 and 2012 among firms in sectors such as software, aerospace and pharma, according to the report by the University of Ulster's Northern Ireland centre for economic policy (NICEP).

The report was commissioned by the NISP Connect programme at Northern Ireland Science Park, and considered growth in employment, business start-ups and venture capital investments.

But while growth was taking place in the province, it was from a low level, so that Northern Ireland was still third from the bottom of 12 UK regions.

The report said: "This data serves to underline the scale of the challenge that faces both those who work in the knowledge economy and in economic policy in Northern Ireland, if the sector is to grow to a level where it is equivalent to the UK average."

Northern Ireland's best performance was in research and development, where it was eighth of the 12 UK regions.

Venture capital funding had collapsed in 2012 to £2m from £12m – though the report said 2011's high was due to one particular transaction.

And wages were also lower for science and technology graduates, at an average of £544 per week in Northern Ireland, compared to £761 in the UK as a whole.

But there were more science and technology graduates in employment in 2012, when they accounted for 10.5% of the workplace, instead of 9.4% a year earlier.

Programme director Steve Orr said: "These results represent excellent news for both the knowledge economy and wider business base.

"Typically, jobs in the knowledge economy pay 25% more than the average wage, and the more growth we see in this sector the greater the ripple effect across Northern Ireland."

He said the success of entrepreneurs and innovators can change the economy – but government policies had to create the conditions for them to flourish.

NICEP associate director Richard Johnston said: "Those in the knowledge economy should look to the future with optimism.

"The sector has been growing since 2009 and with a number of economic indicators looking more positive in recent months, there are clearly opportunities for growth."

There was a growth of 20% between 2009 and 2012 among firms in sectors such as software, pharma and aerospac'

Upward trend: There's been a surge in the knowledge economy

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