Northern Ireland's medium-sized business (MSBs) are the heroes of the economic recovery and could be worth £20bn in under seven years, says one of the UK's most influential business bodies.
A report released today by the CBI said firms employing 50 to 499 people and with a turnover of between £10m and £100m support a quarter of jobs in the private sector here compared to just 20% for the UK as a whole.
MSBs represent 1,000 businesses, employ nearly 120,000 people and represent revenues of £16bn currently.
But with more targeted help from government, the CBI believes the sector could be worth £20bn by 2020.
To achieve that it wants the UK's Business Bank to allocate funding through the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, and also wants deeper leverage of European Investment Bank Funds.
It also calls for the Joint Ministerial Taskforce to be used to ensure a full understanding of lending in Northern Ireland and has called for both DETI and the Department of Employment and Learning to promote deeper engagement between MSBs and universities and colleges.
Nigel Smyth, (below) CBI Northern Ireland director, said that medium-sized business are vital to Northern Ireland.
"These businesses are optimistic about the economy and with a small helping hand from the Government their future growth potential could be even greater," he said.
"With better access to a range of growth finance options, improved training, research support and help to break into new exports markets – they could be worth an extra £20bn to the UK economy by 2020."
One such firm is Bangor-based Munster Simms – also known as Whale – which supplies marine, recreational vehicle, caravan and domestic shower drainage industries around the world with pump systems.
The company, which employs around 150 people, exports into more than 48 countries around the world, with sales offices in England, North America, and most recently Sweden and France, and a customer service team based in both Northern Ireland and North America.
Founded in 1810, in 2008 the company underwent a management buyout.
It has increased its turnover fourfold during the past four years, with plans to double again by 2017.
Chief executive Patrick Hurst said that Government must stimulate firms to invest in the future.
"Looking to the future, the key is to invest in the talent coming through the universities, colleges and schools with businesses providing a fertile environment from which the next generation will develop and grow," he said.
"Whale believes the young people of today combined with an unselfish attitude of the current business leaders will ensure the legacy continues."
The CBI has launched 'MSB Monday' in tribute to the province's medium-sized firms.