Belfast Telegraph

Businesses ready to rise to the challenge... but they do need help

By Toni Forrester

Here in the North West, as the recession really takes hold, all sizes and types of business are looking carefully at their resources, at how they do business and trying to find new and innovative ways of getting and retaining customers.

This is of course not unique to this area but as a border county the recession is hitting much harder and is constantly in the headlines.

In the Republic, some will argue that over the last number of years contracts and customers were easier to come by but as consumers and businesses curb their spending what can we all do to help our small business sector here in Co Donegal?

At a recent meeting of business people from across the county we heard their issues first hand.

Since this group first met in November the problem hasn’t changed but they have realised that this is a global recession, and not something unique to Donegal.

One overriding message was that their main short term concern was staying in business, surviving and coming out the other end. I was reminded recently that at the height of the Celtic Tiger in 2004 Letterkenny lost 2,000 jobs in Unifi.

It was a devastating blow but Letterkenny and Donegal came through it and the message from this group of business people was that they are here for the long term. We are in a new place now, small businesses that have developed and grown over the last number of years through hard work and opportunity are struggling with cashflow.

We are encouraging retailers in particular to let customers and potential customers know they can match prices with their neighbours in the North but their cashflow is such that they find it difficult to justify an advertising spend.

But how can we help our small business sector directly? Many of the businesses that we represent in the North West do not qualify for direct intervention from state agencies.

Many haven’t the experience or resources to know where to go for support nor have they the time or patience to complete forms. So in these unprecedented times maybe we need unprecedented measures.

Obviously we need the banks to help to get money moving round the system once again and the state agencies are offering a plethora of courses and programmes but once we have stimulated a business to look at how they market or how they do business where will they get the money to invest.

A business might need a new website, might need to develop their business online, might have devised a promotional campaign or might have a new service that they want to launch but don’t have the extra cash to pay for it.

In the short term we call for central government support for businesses in the North West for these types of interventions, to give our entrepreneurs even small levels of financial support to help them through this period.

The business people we meet everyday here in Donegal are far from defeated but directed support to inject some working capital into viable businesses would go a long way to ensure SMEs in the North West survive and come out stronger.

Toni Forrester is CEO of Letterkenny Chamber of Commerce. For further information, phone 00353-74-9125505, or 00353-87-2130495, or email to

Belfast Telegraph