Successful firms leading the way
There is no doubt that these are challenging times for the Northern Ireland economy. A report from PwC predicts that the province will have the lowest economic growth of any of the 12 regions of the UK in the coming year and it says continued low productivity is the single biggest factor to be overcome if we are to have sustained recovery.
It is evident that we need to rebalance the local economy due to the disproportionate size of the public sector, but that sector is contracting due to austerity measures being introduced both locally and at Westminster.
While it is easy to get despondent over the general economic outlook, we should not overlook the positive stories emerging from the business community here. Unemployment has fallen by 10,000 in the past year, with the fastest job growth coming in areas like advanced manufacturing, pharma, food processing and tourism. Within those statistics are stories of local companies which are achieving huge success both at home and in the global marketplace.
One shining light is Ballymena bus building firm Wrightbus, which has made the bodies for 90 new buses taking to the streets of Dublin, the second major order to go to the Irish capital in recent years. The company also has orders to build 800 buses for London Transport, and its vehicles can be seen on the streets of Singapore and Hong Kong, too.
Healthcare diagnostics firm Randox has announced pre-tax profits of £13m and its products are shipped to 145 countries. The common factor in both companies' success is investing heavily in research and development to make products which are at the cutting edge of their sectors. They may be headquartered on the periphery of Europe but that does not prevent them selling their expertise around the world. They obviously have great sales teams, but then they have great products to sell.
Closer to home, Lynas Foodservice in Coleraine continues its growth in both employment and sales throughout the province, again demonstrating that entrepreneurial zeal in a competitive sector can pay dividends.
If Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell wants to know what makes a successful business then he should visit these companies and ensure as best he can that their outstanding examples of best practice are emulated more widely.