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NI will still be an attractive proposition for businesses worldwide, says research


Feargal De Freine from EY Ireland

Feargal De Freine from EY Ireland

Feargal De Freine from EY Ireland

Northern Ireland could still be in a "strong position" to continue to attract international businesses to invest here despite the global impact of coronavirus, it's been claimed.

However, Northern Ireland attracted only 28 new foreign direct investment (FDI) projects in 2019, compared with 33 a year earlier, according to EY.

The research suggests that "NI should remain relatively resilient in its ability to attract FDI this year, despite the impact of Covid-19".

"It's important to consider the nature of investment. What we see is strong focus on value added services - and around 80% are in digital, finance, communications and media," Feargal De Freine, partner and head of FDI, EY Ireland, said.

"What is also interesting is what is the impact of Covid-19.

"We surveyed a panel of international decision makers in late April and May to get sentiment and impact on investment in 2020.

"What is interesting is none are saying they are going to cut back entirely on investment. All countries in Europe are in the same position as Northern Ireland."

Across those surveyed around half said they would see a small decrease in investment plans, 10-11% said there was no change in their proposed investment, while some said they would defer until 2021.

The research measures the number of projects announced, but doesn't measure the value, or numbers of roles being created.

Research from EY and the Centre For Towns, also published today, shows Belfast attracted 22 new projects in 2019, representing a 10% increase on last year.

That sees Belfast retain a fourth place on its 'UK Core Cities' list - behind Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow.

"My interpretation is that large corporations will continue to need to make investments," Mr De Freine said.

He said investors see areas such as technology and digital among the keys sectors of growth - those of which Northern Ireland is "in a strong position".

"Companies (may be) thinking about a Far East, plus one (additional location such as Northern Ireland) ... somewhere nearshore might complement quite nicely, with advantages in Europe."

He said both Northern Ireland and the Republic have a similar profile, and the US would still be a key area of investment.

"Both sides of the border depend on the US - it's very important."

And he said he would expect to see investment from the US continuing.

"Notwithstanding the impact of the crisis on workforces and operations, US firms will continue to look at optimising returns and firms looking at Europe will continue to do so."

Looking at the report, it says the Republic attracted 191 projects in 2019, a 7% decrease on the 2018 figure of 205.

"The impressive growth in digital tech investments, and Belfast's continued strong performance, are noteworthy elements of the UK results," Mr De Freine said.

Michael Hall, managing partner, EY Northern Ireland, said: "The evolution of FDI we are seeing across the UK is very evident in Northern Ireland.

"The emergence of clusters in film and media, cybersecurity and legal services in recent years typify this transformation.

"This is incredibly helpful with the twin challenges of Covid and Brexit creating a less ideal investment environment."

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