Business can boost Northern Ireland's future
The past few weeks have been tough for traders, as we have been reminded that there are still some people who are determined to bring us back to the dark days of the Troubles.
Yet, while we have setbacks, we should always keep in mind that there are more reasons for us to be optimistic.
For the past two years, I have worked with my fellow traders and what I have seen are business leaders who are ready to roll up their sleeves to make this city a better place.
After years of seeing opportunities being missed, a group of local traders decided to take action and improve the lot of our local community.
We did this because we don't believe that the future of the country should only be left to politicians. Business can play a key role.
Take employment. Across Belfast, small businesses are creating opportunities.
We are the sector of the economy that is training people for the future.
Then there are the opportunities that traders provide.
We tend to focus on larger corporations for our prosperity, but local traders are already doing this job.
Across all of the businesses that I work with, I meet people who might have left school with little qualifications being given opportunities to have a decent standard of living.
The Antrim Road Traders Association has been an inspirational project.
Helping to set up trade fairs that bring the entire community together and seeing what local traders do on a daily basis is something that deserves to be recognised.
When you think about what this city has come through over the last 12 months, and the great things that are happening through the efforts of local traders, we can be optimistic going into 2014.
As we face the challenges ahead, we can be confident that we have a bright future – if we take the steps to ensure that we support our small businesses and encourage them to play an active role in improving our society.