Belfast Telegraph

Invest NI boasts best ever results

By Margaret Canning

Invest NI has announced its best-ever jobs performance though it is still struggling to boost the manufacturing sector in Northern Ireland.

In the six months to the end of September, the economic development agency said it had created 10,800 jobs - compared to 2,890 over the same period in the previous year.

Just over half of the jobs promoted by the agency were in locally-owned businesses.

Chief executive Alastair Hamilton said the prospect of changes in EU rules on State Aid at the end of June this year, restricting support which government can give to firms already operating in a region, had been an added impetus to get firms to sign on the dotted line.

The prospect of cuts to its budget had also pushed the agency to secure commitment from firms.

"We were looking forward to a tighter budget so we pushed hard to secure projects at the best possible funding point we could get them."

Out of £126m in assistance to firms - which was the highest sum in assistance offered by Invest NI over the first half of a year - £35m had gone to locally-owned small to medium-sized enterprises. Mr Hamilton (below) said: "Last year was our best year on record and we did not expect to be able to match, let alone exceed, that performance this year. However, at the mid-year point of this financial year we have already surpassed some of our 2013/14 achievements.

"By end of September 2014 we had promoted over 10,800 jobs - this not only exceeds the full year total for last year, but is also the highest number of jobs we have ever promoted in a six-month period." He predicted that if the performance was maintained, there could be another 2,000 jobs promoted by Invest NI before the beginning of its next financial year in April 2015. The performance had left it well ahead of targets for jobs contained in the 2010 Programme for Government, with 34,300 jobs promoted just three-and-a-half years into the programme, compared with the target of 25,000 for the whole four years.

There were six new entrants into the Northern Ireland business world, such as US firm Puppet Labs, London-based Chelsea Apps and law firm Baker and McKenzie.

Mr Hamilton said there would be another four new companies announced between now and the start of the next financial year. Because of the State Aid rules restricting assistance to firms already in a region, new companies were an important focus.

"We look at high growth, early stage companies but there is a very limited financial risk to us."

Invest NI had also been able to focus on developing so-called 'centres of excellence', such as legal services, as demonstrated in Baker and McKenzie's decision to create 256 jobs carrying out work for its international clients.

Mr Hamilton said a future area of excellence could be human resources. "Our skill set here in Northern Ireland together with our capability in HR management means there may be more opportunities in that piece."

But manufacturing remained lacklustre as firms suffered as a result of declines in international markets.

The value of manufacturing exports had been boosted by just 6% since 2010 - below the target of 20% in Programme for Government.

Mr Hamilton said the decision by Caterpillar Northern Ireland (formerly FG Wilson) to relocate part of its production to China had resulted in a loss of £0.5bn to the value of manufacturing exports.

Belfast Telegraph

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