Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

On business: Why business has spring in its step

There's a fresh air of economic opportunity filling the lungs of Northern Ireland business these days.

I don't think I've ever bumped into so many optimistic businessmen and women as I have in recent months.

Those of you who read this column regularly (and you are to be prized among men and women!) will know that I am very much a glass half full kind of guy.

Well, I have to tell you that there are plenty of optimists out there at present in the commercial world despite a fall in property prices, a greedy taxation system and a strong pound.

If you try to put your finger on the main causes of this optimism it's really quite hard because there are so many facets at play.

Yet look at the reception given to senior politicians in America in recent days and we get a glimpse of part of the reason: genuine political stability amidst an absence of violence.

In the past it was always something this economy and society aspired to, a stable political context. Popular opinion proffered that once such a stability existed the economic floodgates would open and Northern Ireland would suddenly boom.

Of course, the reality is different to the theory, but not so different that we can't help but notice the slow but positive change going on around us because of the political stability which ensues.

While it may be somewhat churlish to state that it's payback time - Northern Ireland is not, after all, some Die Hard movie where Bruce Willis has turned the tables on the bad guys and it's time for some retribution - it certainly is time, however, to bring the economic harvest home. Who could really have imagined such a venture to the United States as we have just witnessed, with the opposite ends of the political spectrum jointly trumpeting Northern Ireland's case in the land of the free?

Perhaps we lacked the necessary imagination to see that this could one day happen? I don't think so. Over 30 years of violence, imagining a better future was often all that was left after news of yet one more brutal murder.

Yet now we should raise our expectations and let our imaginations run free.

Northern Ireland is changing right before our very eyes both economically and socially and we must make the most of the opportunities afforded to us as we seek to build a better economy and a more inclusive society.

We must develop a strong sense of self-belief and confidently state our case in the world, looking out in hope with something to offer, rather inwards in despair hoping for help.

I've always believed Northern Ireland had the wherewithal to raise itself above the problems we endured, to present a face to the world that declared our intent to be so much more than we were perceived to be.

And indeed we are so much more and we have so much more to offer, not just to the outside world, but to ourselves, both economically and socially.

We need to take that same optimism and confidence which has swept through the United States in recent days and dish it out to each other in large helpings.

This is a good place to do business and in which to live. We have problems, sure; challenges, definitely - but we have and are so much more.

While we are telling that to the rest of the world let us also not forget to remind ourselves of it from time to time. Northern Ireland is increasingly a confident economy and its people are on the move.

Let us make sure we all join in.

Carlton Baxter is managing director of Carlton Baxter Communications, part of the AV Browne Group, and a former editor of Ulster Business magazine.

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