Tough times ahead, admits North's investment body

The North’s economic development agency faces tough times ahead, its chairman admitted today.

Invest NI chief Stephen Kingon said: “It will be difficult as people defer, postpone and rethink investment plans.”

Announcing the agency’s provisional figures for the year to the end of March Mr Kingon said it had met or beaten many targets.

There had been almost 6,500 jobs promoted but he said in the uncharted waters of the current global recession it was unclear how many would eventually turn into real jobs on the ground.

While Invest NI had been busy trying to create new jobs its client companies had been forced to make 3,500 workers redundant – most in the last few months.

Mr Kingon said: “Whilst the results are strong, it must be clearly understood that in the current global economic climate, businesses everywhere are constantly re-evaluating their positions, with many adopting a more cautious approach, seeking to cut costs and delay ambitions for expansion.

“We are already seeing this translate into a decline in early stage work-in-progress, which will inevitably impact on the out-turns over the next two years.”

But he said given that there was nothing Invest NI could do to impact on global economic issues, it must maintain a sharp focus on those areas it could control and which would make the biggest difference to its clients and the wider business community.

“Whilst Invest NI’s initial response to the deteriorating economic conditions has assisted many businesses to identify the issues they are facing, nevertheless we need to build on this momentum and provide tailored support to enable them to survive in the current downturn and to be prepared for the future upturn,” he said.

Through the last financial year Invest NI figures showed it:

:: made almost 2,600 offers of assistance to clients which could result in total investment of £1,178m (€1,312m);

:: promoted 6,494 new jobs and safeguarded a further 951 existing jobs;

:: supported 1,253 locally owned businesses to invest over £350m (€390m) in projects which will generate £70m (€78m) annually in wages and salaries;

:: saw a 100% increase in number of clients seeking export support and 18% more companies visiting external markets;

:: encouraged more clients to embrace innovation through its New Grant for R&D scheme and launch of Innovation Vouchers, together with a series of Innovation Masterclasses;

:: representatives of over 1,000 businesses offered practical advice and assistance in areas such as financial and cash flow management, business direction, securing extra sales, improving internal efficiencies and supply chain issues to help them navigate through the current challenging times.

The US:NI Investment Conference last May positioned the North as a competitive, stable and welcoming region that was pro-business and pro-active in meeting the needs of international investors.

Mr Kingon said with hindsight the timing could have been better given what had happened to the global economy since, but there had been a window of opportunity which could not be repeated.

Alastair Hamilton, newly installed chief executive of Invest NI, said: “The outcomes in 2008/09 were heavily influenced by the changing focus of many of our clients in the face of weakening economic conditions, particularly in the second half of the year.

“The majority of our activity was focused on locally-owned Small and Medium Sized enterprises, supporting them to address issues and remove constraints to growth or competitiveness.”

Despite the current pressures, he said it was encouraging many local businesses were continuing to look to the longer term – as shown by the high level of participants in market visits and export programmes, and the positive response to programmes to encourage innovation.


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