Time to shine a light on NW manufacturing successes

Derry man Stephen Kelly, who is Chief Executive of Manufacturing NI, talks about Manufacturing Month which takes place in March

Sunday, 9th February 2020, 10:00 am
CELEBRATING EXCELLENCE... Diane Dodds, Minister for the Economy, and Stephen Kelly, CEO, Manufacturing NI, launch Manufacturing Month.

Given its proximity to the border, and the importance of cross-border trade and business, the North West business community was understandably preoccupied by Brexit in 2019, writes Stephen Kelly.

But beyond the headlines of deal or no-deal, the local manufacturing sector was commendably resilient and we saw significant investment in firms across the North West.

With the majority of manufacturing taking place outside of Belfast, its impact has always been more acutely felt in local economies. Derry has a hugely significant and proud manufacturing heritage, particularly in shirt making. While it no longer has the primacy in the local economy that it once did, it remains the second largest sub-sector for employment after retail.

Stephen Kelly says the manufacturing sector in Northern Ireland is the foundation of our regional economy.

Manufacturers in Derry, Omagh, Strabane and across the border in Donegal continue to lead the way in their respective fields and, in the face of Brexit uncertainty and anxieties, they are sustaining thousands of jobs and driving the local economy. And it’s right that we acknowledge their contribution to the wider Northern Ireland economy.

March will be Northern Ireland’s first ever Manufacturing Month, a full month dedicated to showcasing the excellence and strength of our regional manufacturing and engineering. Throughout the whole of March, there will be a series of innovative events, business breakfasts, seminars, tours, and a flagship leadership summit held across Northern Ireland which will address the key challenges for the future of manufacturing in Northern Ireland and map out a vision of the sector as we enter the new decade.

Delivered in partnership with KPMG, Siemens, Willis Towers Watson, Invest NI, and Barclays, Manufacturing Month will bring together leading manufacturers, policy experts, schools and young people, and other business leaders to highlight the strength of our local manufacturing industry and to inspire the next generation of manufacturers and engineers.

This is an opportunity to shine a light on some of the manufacturing success stories of the North West. Manufacturing here is thriving, innovating and growing. The talent pool is diverse, local further education institutions like Ulster University and North West Regional College are equipping local young people with the skills they need to be the next industry leaders, and foreign companies have identified the area as ripe for investment. Last year, US engineering giant Terex opened a new £12 million facility in Campsie, creating 100 new jobs and generating over £2 million in annual salaries.

Local companies are also at the forefront of the manufacturing make-up in the North West. Strabane is home to O’Neills, Ireland’s foremost sportswear producer, and Frylite, the island’s leading supplier of cooking oil. Derry-based Nuprint Technologies specialises in the production of high-quality commercial and industrial labels used by companies across the UK and Ireland. Fleming Agri is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of agricultural equipment, used in the UK, the US, Australia and New Zealand. Seagate, which invested nearly £50 million in the city last April, produces equipment locally which is used in a quarter of all memory devices globally. Even as recently as last month, local engineering firm, Gallagher and McKinney, announced the creation of 14 new jobs, five new apprentices a year, and a new manufacturing facility.

It would be complacent for local businesses to take their eye off the ball with regards to Brexit in 2020. But manufacturing firms across the North West are made up of talented, highly skilled workers and provide world-class products and services which are used across the UK, Ireland and further afield. They contribute hugely to the local economy and sustain households and businesses on both sides of the border.

It’s time to recognise this contribution by highlighting and showcasing the quality of local manufacturers.

Manufacturing Month gives us the opportunity to do just that.