Belfast Telegraph

China link is reaping rewards: Invest NI

By Clare Weir

Business funding body Invest NI is looking to the Far East to stimulate the economy here.

Chief executive of the organisation Alastair Hamilton revealed that a Chinese IT company is coming for an exploratory visit to Northern Ireland in the coming months following an exposition in Shanghai last year.

Mr Hamilton was speaking following Invest NI's end-of-year briefing, which revealed that around £638m worth of investments have been committed to by foreign and indigenous businesses in the year ended March 31, 2011.

The agency said that all of its key targets have been exceeded despite the difficult economic climate and that over £170m per year in additional wages and salaries were generated.

Over 2,800 new jobs have been secured from 41 inward investment projects, with 81% of those paying above the Northern Ireland private sector average.

Organisations committed to invest £147m in innovation and research and development, including 114 doing so for the first time.

First time international investors included Dow Chemical and Allen & Overy.

Investments were also announced by Citi, Schrader, First Derivatives, Norbrook, Randox Laboratories and Almac.

Over 230 businesses were encouraged to engage in research and development for the first time and a further 650 SMEs were offered funding to improve IT services.

Invest NI has also announced that a re-structuring programme will take place to streamline services, and that a new internet and telephone helpline service will be set up for small businesses in its offices across Northern Ireland under the brand.

Mr Hamilton added there would be no future land acquisition in terms of securing industrial space for new businesses to locate and develop, and that the agency would now be relying solely on its existing land portfolio.

The body supported 190 businesses to take part in their first trade mission last year and helped a further 585 that sought to diversify into new markets.

As it was announced that China could contribute £1bn worth of deals with British businesses during the visit of the country's Premier Wen Jiabao to London this week, Mr Hamilton said that Northern Ireland can also capitalise on the opportunities provided by forging links with the Far East.

Invest NI already has an office in Japan and Mr Hamilton said that plans to further extend its reach into China are ongoing.

"Invest NI is very ambitious around what we can do in China," he said.

"I was on the trade mission to China in Shanghai and Hong Kong with Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster back in November and we are extending our presence in China, making new contacts and publicising our inward investment capabilities.

"The Shanghai expo created what I see as quite a significant showcase for Northern Ireland, we have home-grown companies who have boosted their export trade to China and there were three or four companies which showed strong interest in Northern Ireland, indeed one IT company is coming here for a fact-finding visit in the next few months."