Companies like Schrader Electronics and Almac demonstrate the prowess of our manufacturers, writes Stephen Kelly
Despite all that has been thrown at them, once again Northern Ireland manufacturing community is demonstrating its problem solving and positivity as they lead the fight for economic recovery post-pandemic and Brexit.
That’s brought into bright light by our manufacturers leading the way in the Top 100 yet again.
In fact, Schrader Electronics in Co Antrim, which makes tyre pressure monitoring systems, is the number one in this year’s chart, with pre-tax profits of £102m in 2020. That’s more than double the year before.
Alongside Tughans we recently published our annual State of Manufacturing report in the past month.
The report brings in to sharp focus the huge challenge brought on by disrupted supply chains, eye-watering input inflation and an acute lack of labour.
Yet despite that, our manufacturers are winning more business and are more positive about where they are in 2022 and in to the future.
Two out of three firms say they are growing, with a further 21% reporting a stable position — meaning just 11% believe that the challenges they face means their business in contracting.
Bringing in almost £15bn of external income, more than what Treasury passes back to the Executive to run public services, means that we really wouldn’t have an economy in Northern Ireland if it weren’t for of manufacturers.
Which is why it is important that 39% say they have increasing sales in the EU and 40% increasing sales in Great Britain.
And in employment local firms are returning or creating jobs four times faster than their counterparts in Britain.
Nothing seems capable of stopping the march of our makers. That is why we have designated May as Manufacturing Month — to cherish and celebrate those who in great businesses, populated by great people, are making great products enjoyed in markets at home and abroad.
Blue chips like KPMG, Pinsent Masons, Lockton, Barclays and public sector partners Invest NI and the further education colleges recognise the economic and social contribution being made by the sector, which is why they’re supporting Manufacturing Month.
The Department for the Economy recognises it by picking out advanced manufacturing as an opportunity in its 10X Economy strategy and the Department of Finance singling out the need to buy more locally to ensure supply chain resilience whilst rebuilding our economy.
Understandably it is our manufacturing exporters who dominate their space in the Top 100 and we’re lucky to have them.
Despite the challenges for UK manufacturing from Brexit, companies like Almac are out in the market and talking up their advantage and winning business which in turn is generating not only wealth but much more work for local people.
Indeed, in the last year they’ve announced not only a £40m investment in new production facilities in Portadown but 1,800 new jobs, 1,000 of which will be here in Northern Ireland. This represents probably its largest single jobs announcement in a generation.
We know a small corner of Derry and Tyrone dominate the world’s materials handling industry so it is no wonder that the Terex Corporation have that global division headquartered in Omagh under local leadership. Terex is just outside the top 10 with pre-tax profits of £33.4m.
Terex have expanded in to new production facilities including bringing new products for the recycling industry to the North West.
Homegrown engineering firms like CDE Global have grasped the opportunity provided by the deep expertise, industry connections and that Ulster entrepreneurialism which has been developed by working so closely together.
Given the quality of our ingredients it is no surprise that we produce enough food to feed 10 million people and that our food manufacturers are again represented in the Top 100.
But this now extended well beyond the actual food itself and in to the food industry’s own supply chain. Whether it is feed for our animals or indeed the packaging of the final produce, just like in engineering an ecosystem exists which extends the economic reach.
Encirc make almost one billion bottles every year in rural Fermanagh for globally-recognised brands many of which we enjoyed at home when we were all in lockdown.
And, as the baseload at the end of the Gas to the West pipeline, it means that people in North Armagh, Tyrone and Fermanagh have that energy source.
Whilst our engineering and food success is well understood, there’s not just a growing reputation but a deeper economic impact in other sectors as highlighted in the Top 100.
Construction materials are well represented including from firms such as Brett Martin, with pre-tax profits of £23m, Kilwaughter at £9.4m and Tobermore at £18.7m.
Big players in not just our domestic but increasingly in Great Britain and export markets who provide products to the wider construction industry products but also direct to consumers as we all trade our hands at home improvements during lockdown.
Our life sciences industry, with industry leading names like Almac, with pre-tax profits of £63.6m, are joined by others such as Eakin Healthcare Group, with pre-tax profits of £22.3m.
They are homegrown, innovative and industry-leading in a market which can only grow as the world’s population ages.
Then we have our wider transportation sector from the reborn Wrightbus in Ballymena after its acquisition by Bamford Bus Company, who produce the final customer-facing products.
More particularly, in the wider supply chain we have Linamar and the increasingly successful Schrader Electronics, who make things none of us never see but are critically important to keep us safe.
Our firms demonstrate every day that they are capable or running towards and quickly tackling problems and grasping opportunities.
Imagine the impact they would have in our cities, town and townlands if the right environment was created for them to be successful.
But most importantly, we need to celebrate, not only just in the Top 100 and Manufacturing Month during May but all year round, the people who make all the things we see every day but take for granted.
Stephen Kelly is chief executive of Manufacturing NI