Belfast Telegraph

Call to attract investment from more overseas firms

Foreign-owned companies account for 41% of total private sector employment in Northern Ireland, despite making up only 5% of the province's businesses.

Figures were provided to the Belfast Telegraph by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment as the New York Stock Exchange announced plans to create 400 hi-tech jobs in Northern Ireland.

The Inter Departmental Business Register (IDBR) showed that 3,325 businesses out of a total of 70,790 had an owner from outside Northern Ireland, who held more than 50% of the shareholding.

However, these 3,325 businesses account for 41% of total employment recorded on the IDBR.

DUP Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said the numbers highlighted the importance of attracting overseas investment to the region.

She said: "The attraction of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is important as it encourages technological and skill transfer to the local economy.

"FDI also contributes to the integration of the local economy into international trade, while creating a more competitive business environment and encouraging business development. All of these factors contribute to higher economic growth."

NYSE Euronext first bought Northern Ireland software company Wombat 18 months ago.

It had previously promised to create around 75 jobs before deciding to increase the scale of its operation here.

Other overseas companies with large-scale operations in Northern Ireland include the likes of Citigroup, Caterpillar, Bombardier, Thales, Cemex, Michelin and Allstate.

The register only contains information on businesses in the UK which are VAT registered or which operate a PAYE scheme, and so may exclude some smaller businesses.

Businesses are also classed as being locally owned unless a single outside investor holds more than 50%, which DETI said likely means the estimates underestimate the total number of businesses that may be partly owned by interests outside the province.

UUP MLA Sam Gardiner last week said the low number of foreign-owned companies could indicate that more attention needed to be paid to developing new local businesses.

He said: "We should perhaps be developing a greater emphasis in our policies on fostering locally owned enterprises.

"Far more attention should be paid to developing new local enterprises based on patents held in our two universities and seeing if there are commercial applications for these patents."