Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Northern Ireland's potential for growth dwarves other UK regions

International delegates are attending a special two-day conference at Titanic Belfast in a bid by Stormont ministers and Invest NI chiefs to attract inward investment in Northern Ireland by showcasing its infrastructure, manpower and low-cost base

Northern Ireland dwarves other UK regions when it comes to offering inward investors opportunities to grow their business, according to the boss of a fund management firm.

Mark Huntley, who heads up Financial Services at Heritage Group, said he had considered opening a base in Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh, as well as Malta but only the latter came close to offering the potential he found in Northern Ireland.

"Whilst we decided to open an office in Malta, which is also successful in developing new fund administration business, we could not see the opportunity for quantum growth that we found in Northern Ireland," he said.

Heritage, headquartered in Guernsey, opened a base in Belfast in early 2011 and currently employs around 46 people in the fund administration business.

He said the need for a lower cost base was the main factor which brought Northern Ireland into the business's sights but connectivity was also key.

"Based in Guernsey, we wanted to be no more than half a day away from the UK office, and Belfast has excellent air and sea links," he said. "We also looked at the availability of potential staff, the level of professionally qualified people and the graduate pool.

"Office space and IT infrastructure were also factors. Finally a degree of financial assistance with the set-up costs and particularly the impact of training staff was also an important consideration."

Mr Huntley was speaking as Northern Ireland prepared to welcome 120 delegates from multinational companies to a two-day investment conference in Belfast.

He will be one of a plethora of current inward investors who will attend the event which begins tonight with a dinner at Hillsborough Castle.

Around 13 multinational companies which already have bases here – including those from HBO, Herbert Smith Freehills, Thales and Citigroup – will also be speaking at a conference at Titanic Belfast and other venues tomorrow morning.

They'll be sharing their experiences of setting up shop in Northern Ireland and, along with ministers and representatives of Invest NI, trying to persuade the delegates to follow suit.

This year's conference follows on from a US-focused conference in 2008.

It was said to have helped attract a number of US firms to set up European bases in Northern Ireland, including Citigroup, over the last few years.

But Mr Huntley urged potential investors to be patient. "Take time to make the right decision," he said.

"The Invest Northern Ireland process is both thorough and helpful as it requires you to carefully think through the plan. We know that more businesses we look at in the private equity space fail for lack of a well-executed plan than any other reason."

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