This will be a “defining year in Northern Ireland’s future”, the region’s economic development agency has said.
Kevin Holland of Invest Northern Ireland said much has changed over the past year, with the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit, but with so much attention on the region more companies are open to investing.
“Because there has been a spotlight on this region, as we get more attention, we get ears who will listen to us in a way that in the normal course of the year, companies or countries may not,” he told the Stormont Economy Committee.
He said Invest NI has been “very proactive”, including booking media in the US.
The agency supports businesses in Northern Ireland and also works to attract investment to the region.
Despite some friction caused to trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain by the Brexit protocol and the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Holland said “we start this year very positive” in terms of businesses wanting to create opportunity.
“We have to make Northern Ireland work in 2021 and making it work means talking externally and explaining the benefits of being here, and certainly we have been very active in that in the first two months of this year and we will continue to do that,” he told MLAs.
“We are more hampered by the inability to travel than we are by anything else at the moment.”
He said instead of bringing people to Northern Ireland, the agency has instead been arranging virtual visits.
The committee also heard from the cross-border trade and business development body InterTradeIreland.
Director of business services Margaret Hearty referred to firms facing a difficult economic environment.
She said a recent business monitor survey reported 50% of firms saying they were contracting, winding down or surviving, just 40% were fully operational, and most said Brexit and the pandemic were having an impact.
“The pandemic remains, impacting significantly on demand, supply and cashflow,” she told MLAs.
“In addition to the significant impact of Covid at present, many firms are having to adjust to the changes arising from the UK exit from the EU.
“On a positive note, I think we’re witnessing every day the resilience of firms, of businesses in Northern Ireland, that’s borne out through the increasing demand for our products and our services which really shows the fightback from business to trade their way out of the current pandemic.”