On the economy: Industrial estates open for business
Northern Ireland is competing in the international marketplace to offer high quality locations for modern value-added businesses.
Geography makes Northern Ireland a good location for many investors.
We offer an English speaking environment, British-style legal framework, advanced education and training infrastructure, most business services, modern communications networks, reliable public utility services such as roads, electricity, natural gas, clean water supplies and clean(ish) environment, plus generally good quality housing.
The only factors with a negative tinge are the need for expeditious planning approval and the costs of distance for materials or finished products.
One word of caution: Northern Ireland is not unique in offering this attractive marketing pitch. Many other regions would make similar claims.
Northern Ireland must enhance its positive features, which is where Invest Northern Ireland becomes a key intermediary.
But what places should Invest NI put on a list of 'best' locations for an investor?
Invest NI immediately has a political problem: to select a 'best' location is invidious. It must offer alternative locations and that decisions are made by the incoming enterprise.
Is Northern Ireland a 'green and pleasant land' offering a choice of quality locations?
Gone are the days that a designated industrial estate, often in a brownfield environment, would be enough.
There are many industrial estates around the province where landlords (sometimes Invest NI) need to upgrade the environment, amenities and services. Landscaping and so on are not prohibitively expensive.
There are some designated areas that offer a welcome contrast.
An early example came with the development of the Antrim Technology Park, although it was handicapped in the search for investors during the worst years of the Troubles.
The Science Park concept, alongside the universities, offers another attractive combination but, in Titanic Quarter, it needs to be given an enhanced environment.
Invest NI is the largest provider of space for incoming investors who qualify for their support.
Currently it owns land in 53 business parks, extending over 2,800 acres as well as 19 buildings. Sites are available in 39 of these business areas on 820 acres, and five buildings are vacant.
Despite the apparently generous supply, Invest NI is worried that the existing supply could be fully let within seven years, unless new land is acquired.
By the end of 2007, Invest NI will only be able to offer serviced sites in 35 areas.
No Invest NI land is now available in Armagh, Newry, Strabane, Banbridge or Cookstown. The supply of land will soon be all allocated in Carrickfergus, Magherafelt, Ballymoney and parts of Belfast.
Buying and readying new business park sites is now more expensive. Examples exist of a purchase of over 75 acres at £1m per acre, on to which must be added basic development costs of £10m to have 50 useable acres: a net cost of nearly £1.75m per useable acre. This makes the provision of business parks both very expensive and a more important feature of the Invest NI armoury.
Any new investor is now facing the deterrent of higher location site costs.
To attract quality projects, Invest NI must square the circle of offering prestige locations without charging top-price leasing rates - and that's not an easy conundrum to solve.
The 12 largest business parks with available space (acres):
1. Mandeville (Craigavon) 97.
2. Global Point (Newtownabbey) 94.
3. Campsie (Londonderry) 61.
4. Halfpenny Valley (Lurgan) 57.
5. Granville (Dungannon) 55.
6. Wattstown (Coleraine) 50.
7. Woodside Road (Ballymena) 34.
8. Charlestown Road (Portadown) 34.
9. Down (Downpatrick) 34.
10. Skeoge (Derry) 32.
11. Antrim Tech (Antrim) 27.
12. Carran (Enniskillen) 22.