Invest NI hails 'exceptional' 2017 with 11k jobs created despite Stormont lockout
... but economic development agency sounds note of caution
Invest NI has described its performance in a year without a sitting Executive as "exceptional" as it helps add nearly 11,000 jobs.
And the economic development agency, which supports inward investment as well as indigenous firms, said it's well on course to reach its goal of adding between 30,000 and 40,000 new jobs by 2021.
Invest NI's publication on the first year of its 2017-2021 business strategy said that despite the collapse of the Executive in January 2017, 10,970 additional jobs were recorded.
It also recorded £0.8bn in export sales, on course to meet its target of achieving £0.8 to £1.2bn by 2021.
Chief executive Alastair Hamilton said: "An out-turn of nearly 11,000 additional jobs within the first year is an exceptional result and positions us one-third of the way towards our four-year outcome target. These are jobs that businesses have already created and two-thirds of these are in companies located outside of Belfast."
The results follow a requirement in the draft Programme for Government for more 'outcome-based reporting' by Invest NI. It reported £1.2bn in external sales in 2017, with a goal of reaching up to £3.1bn by 2021.
The publication follows the EY Attractiveness Survey, which said foreign direct investment projects were down by 50% - leading to claims that a lack of an Executive, worries over Brexit and concerns over social policy were all contributing to a loss of attractiveness.
The survey found there were just 19 new projects by overseas firms during the year. And NI was the worst performing region of the UK with the steepest decline.
Some £1.7bn in total sales were recorded last year, from a target of £3.2 to £4.2bn within the next three years.
Mr Hamilton said the report focuses on the wider impact of the support provided by Invest NI with results collected from around 1,500 businesses.
But the chief executive said while he is encouraged by the results, the coming years could prove difficult.
"While this is great progress for one year into a four-year strategy we are mindful that there remain real challenges ahead in light of Brexit and US policy changes," he said.
"So while we are very encouraged by this year's export out-turn we will be continuing to review our support offering to ensure it helps businesses meet the new challenges ahead and will monitor export performance closely."
Economist John Simpson said the performance was "impressive" and "encouraging".
"Despite the slow recovery of the whole Northern Ireland economy, the larger share of development by Invest NI client businesses is a welcome surprise," he added. "Against a background of concerns about the negative effects of the prospects from Brexit this is encouraging.
"The challenge to Invest NI now is to show the sectors where this has happened and to draw lessons for future policy towards more foreign direct investment."
Mr Hamilton said: "The agency continues to see strong interest from companies looking to invest in Northern Ireland and in 2017/18 it supported 23 businesses to invest for the first time, one of our highest in the last five years.
"Continuing to attract investment is a key priority and over the next year we aim to build on our ability to attract international entrepreneurs as well as building on our successes in our key markets of the US and Great Britain."
Mr Simpson said Invest NI had made no mention of "the unfinished debate" about whether NI should continue to seek a lower rate of corporation tax.
"Since the environment for attracting investment has been changing so much, the analysis in the full annual report from Invest NI will be an important policy-making document."