Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Innovation key to saving FG Wilson

It was all going so well. New jobs announcements were trickling in every few days, economic indicators were ticking higher and even the housing market had shaken off the gloom.

Then the sucker punch of job losses from FG Wilson which took us all by surprise, even those who had a inkling that something was in the pipeline.

It's no secret that demand for gensets, the punchy name for power generators which were the manufacturer's forte, has fallen off a cliff over the last few years, but the extent to which it has impacted one of our stalwart companies really has come a something of a shock.

Caterpillar is no dozer, if you pardon the extremely weak pun, and wants to be producing gensets in the face of the region it reckons will crying out for portable power in the next few years: China.

It also wants to take advantage of cheaper labour, and most probably parts, in Asia. That means it is quite publicly moving part of its operations east. Such a move isn't a new phenomenon and it certainly won't be the last to head east, but let's hope the Illinois owners use their nous to try and preserve the rest of FG Wilson.

Fred Wilson was a classic Northern Ireland inventor and businessman whose achievements are second to none.

If Caterpillar wants to do justice to the name borne by its generators then it needs to emulate him, and innovate the business which remains here.

A similar heavy industry firm, Harland and Wolff, has managed to reinvent itself by moving from ship building to turbine assembly so there's no reason why FG Wilson can't take a leaf out if their book and make the most of what they have here in Northern Ireland.

They owe it to Fred.

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