There is much to celebrate among the Top 100 Companies listed here today including increases in pre-tax profits and the wide range of sectors represented in businesses based right across Northern Ireland.
t is very pleasing to see well-known names many of us will recognise sitting alongside those less well known and new entries to the list.
I am very conscious that the figures reported on today relate to a period before Covid-19.
As a result, this gives us a snapshot of some of our most successful businesses just before the pandemic descended. This was a time before lockdown, social distancing or the need to wear face coverings.
The success of companies highlighted today also serves as a stark reminder of what I and my Department have been working so hard to protect in recent months.
It is because we have such a strong business sector in Northern Ireland that we prioritised offering millions of pounds in business support grants which enabled 30,000 businesses to survive through lockdown and beyond.
The resilience of companies has been seen in recent months. Many adapted their workplaces to ensure the safety of employees and customers, some had to close temporarily and furlough their staff, while others were able to diversify into manufacturing essential personal protection equipment.
I am very proud of how businesses worked together and supported each other through a very difficult and unprecedented period and continue to do so. They faced adversity head on.
The volume of traffic on our roads, footfall and the number of businesses reopening are all increasing but we are still far from normality. It could be years before we see economic activity overall back to its pre-pandemic levels.
Despite the difficulties, some companies have been able to announce new jobs. This includes Chicago-headquartered company PEAK6 which is establishing a centre of excellence in Belfast with a target of creating 160 jobs over the next four years. Belfast-based digital solutions company Neueda is also creating 230 jobs in a £20m investment.
It was great to see the Eat Out To Help Out Scheme giving a welcome boost to our restaurants in August. People holidaying close to home over the summer also helped tourism businesses.
We want to return to having a thriving tourism industry and that is why I established the Tourism Recovery Steering Group to lead on the planning and preparations and prepare for regrowth of the sector. I would urge the public to continue to support the hospitality and tourism sector in the months and years ahead.
My Department is focused on economic recovery and it is important to stress that the rebuilding of our economy goes hand in hand with protecting people’s health.
We will be living alongside this virus for some time to come so we need to adapt, innovate and move forward with the safety of staff and customers at the forefront.
My economic recovery plan includes four key high growth areas – advanced manufacturing, life and health sciences, digital and clean energy. I am pleased to see all of these sectors represented among the companies listed today.
I want to build a more competitive, inclusive and greener economy that delivers highly paid jobs, a highly skilled workforce and a more regionally balanced economy.
We have already identified a range of measures to help vulnerable but viable businesses, with funding of around £25m already secured for 2020/21.
These measures will help businesses adapt to the challenges of Covid-19 and EU Exit by supporting digital/online selling, improvements to operational processes and supply chain resilience, the use of new technologies, business financial/recovery planning and the provision of loans and equity investment.
Developing the skills base of our young people and workforce is also central to our economic success going forward.
In recognition of this and the key role that apprentices will play in our economic recovery, £17.2m has been secured by my Department to deliver schemes which include supporting the return, retention and achievement of apprentices as well as growing and maintaining the supply of apprentice opportunities to ensure that employers have access to the skills needed to grow their businesses.
Young people in particular need high quality routes into careers so I would urge businesses throughout Northern Ireland to support apprentices. I am directing funding to incentivise employers to take on new apprentices and to enhance the supply of apprenticeship opportunities.
Our new skills strategy will cover all life stages and all levels of learning. It will encompass academic and vocational education and training in both the public and private sectors.
As EU negotiations continue, I and my Executive colleagues continue to press the UK Government to do all that is possible to facilitate our trade within the UK and with the EU, including the Republic of Ireland.
The UK Government’s Trader Support Service will provide guidance and practical support to all NI businesses and organisations that receive goods from GB or the rest of the world.
I would stress once again that it is vital that Northern Ireland businesses continue to enjoy unfettered access to the GB market and remain competitive within it.
My Department’s EU Exit Transition Readiness Programme was established to ensure that my Department, our arm’s length bodies and our businesses are as prepared as they can be for the end of the transition period.
While clarity is still required on some issues, there is much that businesses can do to ensure they are equipped to face the challenges and opportunities from January 1. Invest Northern Ireland and InterTradeIreland are available to provide valuable support and advice.
I would like to wish all of Northern Ireland’s businesses the very best for the times ahead.
I will continue to move our economy forward in a careful and considered way and with the best interests of the business community always at the centre of everything we do.