US talks convinced Caterpillar to bring 200 posts to Belfast: Arlene Foster
Crunch talks between the Stormont Enterprise Minister and the vice-president of engineering giant Caterpillar have helped to secure a new hub creating 200 posts in Belfast in the wake of last year's massive FG Wilson job loss announcement.
Arlene Foster travelled to the US in September to meet Bill Rohrer in the wake of news that 760 staff across plants in Newtownabbey, Springvale in west Belfast and Larne were being axed, with some operations being moved to factories in China.
The new investment by Caterpillar – which bought out FG Wilson in 1999 – will provide support from the Springvale office in areas such as finance and human resources to almost 30,000 staff in the company's European, African and Middle-Eastern (EAME) operations.
The new staff – supported by £1.3m from Invest Northern Ireland – will provide services to Caterpillar's machinery, engines, electric power, logistics and aftermarket businesses.
While Caterpillar Northern Ireland boss Robert Kennedy would not be drawn on salaries, both he and the minister stressed that the hub was "not a call centre" and that the jobs, which will be filled over the next five years, are high-value. Minister Foster said: "After the job losses were announced in September, I went to speak to Caterpillar in America to see what we could do and if there was anything we could offer with regard to other opportunities for the company in Northern Ireland.
"We have gone through a competitive process and we have proved that Northern Ireland still has a lot to offer Caterpillar and other companies."
The minister also denied that the announcement displays a shift away from the region's proud manufacturing heritage.
"If we look at the statistics, manufacturing output increased in the third and fourth quarters of 2012," she said. "More and more companies in different sectors like Citigroup, Terex and Allen & Overy are choosing here as a base for back-up and shared service offices and the jobs here will actually support manufacturing.
Mr Kennedy added that Belfast was chosen from a number of other locations, including several in eastern Europe.
Employment and Learning minister Stephen Farry said that the new jobs were "significant and symbolic" for an area plagued by unemployment.
"We are being judged on the quality of our people rather than how cheaply we can provide products," he said. "Business is changing around the world and we can still be competitive in the global market if we think and adapt."
Northern Ireland firm FG Wilson, which makes diesel generator sets, was bought out by global firm Caterpillar in 1999. In September, Caterpillar said it was cutting 760 jobs and moving production of 70% of its sets to China.
There was outrage as it emerged that the firm had secured £1m funding from the public purse in the previous five years.