Belfast Telegraph

2017: The big business stories that hit the headlines

A look back on effects of Stormont impasse, Brexit negotiations and a hotel boom for NI.

January: Devolution and flights grounded

The resignation of Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness triggered the collapse of the power-sharing institutions, leading business bodies to warn that the economy may be harmed as a result.

Mr McGuinness resigned following a row over the Renewable Heat Incentive, which encouraged firms to install boilers for the burning of wood pellets to generate heat. Mark O'Connell, head of foreign director investment advisers OCO Global, warned: "FDI likes a stable home and the prospect of new elections, the renewables scandal and the uncertain spectre of Brexit is likely to at least put decisions on hold, if not deter them."

Northern Ireland's connectedness to the outside world suffered a major setback in January after American airline United Airlines discontinues its Belfast International Airport to New York (Newark) route.

Seven months after the UK voted to leave the EU and Brexit is still the word on everyone's lips. Prime Minister Theresa May uses a speech at Lancaster House to announce that the vote to leave the EU means the UK will also leave the single market and the customs union.

John McCann, founder of Willowbrook Foods in Co Down, is awarded an MBE for services to the food industry and community.

The return of TV hit Cold Feet resulted in profits from NI actor James Nesbitt's company growing. Accounts by Nesbitt's Brown Cow Films Ltd show the firm enjoyed a stellar year as its cash pile increased from £825,921 to £1.49m.

February: Hotel boost and US link restored

This year turned out to be busy for new hotels in Belfast.

Liverpool property developer Lawrence Kenwright told the Belfast Telegraph that he's planning several new hotels in the city. They include a George Best-themed hotel at Donegall Place, as well as a new venue at the former Crumlin Road Courthouse. Mr Kenwright is a newcomer to the buoyant hotel scene in Northern Ireland.

His plans for a George Best-themed hotel emerged after his Signature Living firm bought the Scottish Mutual Building, which was to have been made into a hotel by Tullymore House Ltd, owners of the Galgorm Resort & Spa.

Following Mr Kenwright's announcement, there are now around 20 new hotels in the pipeline for Belfast. Within a short radius of the Scottish Mutual, Hastings Hotel Group is working on the Grand Central Hotel, while Dalata gets busy on its new Maldron Hotel.

A British Retail Consortium-KPMG survey revealed that the UK retail sector suffered slowest growth in eight years in the three months to January 2016. It's the first of a series of scares on consumer spending which are to continue over the year.

A company which counts KFC tycoon Michael Herbert as a director is to build three major luxury housing developments. Kirk Bryson & Co Ltd will build Rose Park on Upper Newtownards Road, as well as Parklands at Knocknagoney, and a development at a former Lidl north of the city on the Antrim Road

The Belfast Telegraph revealed that UTV's 58-year stretch at Havelock House will draw to a close. The broadcaster will move from the historic Ormeau Road premises to set up home at City Quays 2 in Belfast Harbour's Clarendon estate.

There's good news for Belfast International Airport and the province's air links after the airport signs up budget airline Norwegian to provide a route from Belfast International to the US. Norwegian announces it will fly to secondary airports serving New York and Boston on the east coast.

March: Warnings as Article 50 is triggered

A busy year continued for Prime Minister Theresa May as she penned a letter to European Council president Donal Tusk, triggering Article 50.

This means the clock is ticking on a two-year process, at the end of which the UK will have left the EU.

The move is welcomed by Brexiteers in her party as bringing certainty to the process of leaving the EU, and is welcomed by the DUP.

But Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said the triggering of Article 50 highlights "real concerns for the future".

"Triggering Article 50 is the start of a huge process of economic, social and political change for Northern Ireland and it remains to be seen if this change will be positive for our local economy. Certainly leaving the single market and customs union is neither positive for our retail sector or local economy as a whole."

One of the best-known names in Northern Ireland's food industry gained a new private equity owner. Cookstown, based in Co Tyrone, is the owner of the brand of sausages popularised by footballer George Best in a famous advertising campaign. Cookstown owner Karro Food Group was taken over by London PE firm CapVest. Karro chief executive Seamus Carr from Warrenpoint, Co Down, will remain as chief executive.

The ripples of the collapse of Stormont continue as it's revealed that an April 2018 deadline for the devolution of corporation tax here will be pushed back.

After a campaign going back as far as two decades, the business world is disappointed.

Angela McGowan, regional director of the CBI, told the Belfast Telegraph: "CBI member companies recognise that Northern Ireland's international reputation is compromised when politicians commit to policy actions and then fail to deliver them."

In its promotional material, economic development agency Invest NI removed a reference to the April 2018 date for devolving the tax here.

Ann McGregor, chief executive of NI Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that if political stalemate results in the loss of the change to lower corporation tax, "the region will have lost the best opportunity ever to attractive inward investors".

April: Tayto finalises yet another tasty deal

Tayto, one of Northern Ireland's most famous food brands, continued its dominance of the snack food sector.

Tayto affiliate Montagu Group bought up vending machine firm Freedom Refreshments Ltd in Leeds.

Incredibly, the deal is Tayto's third acquisition after buying Portlebay Popcorn in Cornwall and Tavern Snacks during February.

Tayto boss Paul Allen said the Freedom Refreshments deal will enable it to expand its presence in the vending machine sector.

Meanwhile, parent company Manderley Food Group reported a fall in pre-tax profits to £2.9m in the year to June 2016 from £7.1m, while sales also fell from £174.2m to £163m.

Accounts for the luxury Merchant Hotel owner Beannchor, filed under company name Beannchor No 1 Ltd, revealed it tripled pre-tax profits to over £9m while sales also grew from £18.5m to £19.2m. Separate results for the Merchant Hotel Ltd reveal a 0.3% fall in sales to £11.7m, while pre-tax profits were £3.16m, up from £1.27m. A change in its financing arrangements with lender Goldman Sachs led to the addition of £8.3m, helping increase its pre-tax profits.

The same change led to a £5.7m gain for Merchant Hotel Ltd.

The business community in Northern Ireland continued to express its annoyance with the political parties for falling to restore power-sharing after Assembly elections in March.

Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI, warned that delay in agreeing to the terms for devolution of a lower rate of corporation tax "will be will be damaging to both our international reputation to investors overseas, and plans by local firms to make critical business investments in new machinery, production lines and market development".

There was more good news on the hotels front as the Hastings Hotel Group won revised planning permission for its Grand Central Hotel.

The family company announced that the total investment in the Bedford Street hotel will be £53m, making it Northern Ireland's largest.

The company had revised its plans for the hotel to add an additional 104 bedrooms, bringing the total number to 304. The development will brings with it the creation of over 150 jobs and is a crowning achievement for founder Sir Billy Hastings.

May: Hannon's ambitions take to the road

The 2017 Belfast Telegraph Top 100 Companies in partnership with Arthur Cox is published, with Danske Bank the number one company with profits of £117m. The other 99 firms on the list reflect the variety of the Northern Ireland economy and include Lough Erne Investments, owners of a cooked egg products company with pre-tax profits of £3.3m.

The Belfast Telegraph revealed that ambitious transport company Hannon Coaches is applying for a licence to operate a bus route in direct competition to Translink from Londonderry to Belfast. However, the plans from managing director Aodh Hannon for a Derry route were turned down by the Department for Infrastructure. The company later announced it will examine taking on Translink on other routes, including Enniskillen to Belfast.

The Belfast Telegraph Business Awards returned for another year - and this time, the most prestigious awards programme in Northern Ireland had a new headline sponsor - Ulster Bank. The awards evening at Belfast's Crowne Plaza Hotel sees Moy Park chief executive Janet

McCollum received a Lifetime Achievement Award.

A £65m office scheme at the site of the Movie House cinema on the Dublin Road won planning permission from Belfast City Council. The Bankmore Square development is the brainchild of the Richland Group, led by property developer Gary McCausland. The cinema will be replaced by a 12-storey building with a capacity for 3,000 staff. The Belfast Telegraph first revealed the plans for the site in 2016.

The agri-food community enjoyed another Balmoral Show, which this year spanned across four days at Balmoral Park in Lisburn. Organisers the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society said the addition of a Saturday date for the first time in decades allowed visitor numbers to reach a record 115,000.

June: Digital DNA lands in Belfast

Digital experts from organisations such as Google, Twitter, YouTube, Adobe, Motorola and Microsoft attended Northern Ireland technology summit Digital DNA, supported by the Belfast Telegraph, at Belfast's St George's Market on June 6 and 7.

The UK general election left the Conservative Party without an overall majority. But the DUP entered into a confidence and supply agreement with the Conservatives, with its 10 MPs giving their support to the Government on key matters. It's hoped the agreement will bring extra funds to the Northern Ireland economy.

It was announced that CastleCourt Shopping Centre in Belfast would be taken over "within weeks" in a £125m deal led by Co Down property firm Wirefox, headed up by BJ Eastwood.

It had been owned by the Hermes property fund since 2012. The Wirefox deal became the highlight of a slow year in the commercial property investment market. Many agents observe that Brexit is causing investors to hold back on committing to deals. However, Wirefox made other key acquisitions later in the year, including two office properties in Scotland.

It was another year of upheaval in the banking sector. Northern Ireland's four major banks announced branch closures, and in June, Ulster Bank announced it's seeking 51 redundancies in its debt management operation and 13 in its contact centre team.

Growth in the hotels sector wasn't limited to Belfast. The Silverbirch Hotel revealed it completed a £3.5m refurbishment. Other hotel developments include plans for an extension at the Tullyglass House Hotel in Ballymena.

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