Ann McGregor, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, on why it’s sponsoring the Excellence in Exporting category in the Belfast Telegraph Business Awards in partnership with Ulster Bank
Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry's absolute focus and priority has been supporting businesses to grow and ultimately export.
The support provided is private sector-designed and delivered and complements the work of Invest NI.
Through our Growing Something Brilliant Campaign, involving companies such as Wrightbus, Henry Brothers, Ulster Carpets, MJM and Glen Dimplex, we have showcased business role models who can inspire and share learning.
Our Learn Grow Excel initiative also allows these role models to provide practical support, mentoring and signposting to businesses.
The aim is to firstly instil confidence in our SMEs that exporting is an option, and, secondly, let them see how it has been done successfully by similar companies in their sectors.
Whilst we have a number of forward and outward-looking businesses who realise that our own home market is naturally small and restricted, we need to inspire more.
We must therefore commend the 2017 Belfast Telegraph Business Awards' Excellence in Exporting finalists - WIS Group, MJM Marine, CDENVIRO and BA Components - for their success in reaching new markets.
These are companies that are already growing something brilliant and they really deserve our congratulations on their success to date.
Northern Ireland ended 2016 on a relative high in terms of goods exports. The Regional Trade Statistics highlighted that with a 12% growth, this was the highest growth rate across all four countries. In 2016 we gained just over 200 new exporters selling goods outside the UK.
This is positive news, especially in light of the Export Matters strategy - a joint programme of work which involves the Department for the Economy, Invest NI and IntertradeIreland, and has a target of increasing the value of sales external to Northern Ireland by 80% over the next nine years to 2025.
Although these figures are welcomed, we also acknowledge through our members that 2017 has started in a particularly challenging way for manufacturers as their export order book weakens.
Significant cost pressures are also beginning to emerge, leading to concerns around profitability along with growing pressure to raise prices.
The latest NI Chamber/BDO Quarterly Economic Survey published last week shows that businesses are also continuing to feel inflationary pressures, with manufacturers reporting rising raw material costs as the key pressure on prices - at its highest since Q4 2011 with Northern Ireland ranking 2nd highest across the UK regions on this measure.
Firms are however trying to make efficiency savings rather than passing these costs on to customers - for now.
The Department for the Economy has recently published its own Draft Industrial Strategy focused on creating a "globally competitive economy that works for everyone".
We must now work in partnership with the department to ensure that these emerging costs, amongst other issues, do not hamper the competitiveness of our manufacturers and exporters, whose drive and determination in growing both at home and in export markets must be applauded.
It is clear that businesses in Northern Ireland want to see more positive momentum. They want an economy that they can be really proud of - generating more success stories, more winners and more champions.
Therefore be assured that the NI Chamber will keep exporting as our key focus in the months and years ahead.
It's just three days until the winners of the 2017 Belfast Telegraph Business Awards in partnership with Ulster Bank are revealed on May 4 at a gala ceremony at the Crowne Plaza, Shaws Bridge, Belfast.