View from the Foyle: Time to celebrate our manufacturers

‘We don’t make anything anymore’.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 6th May 2022, 1:01 pm

‘We don’t make anything anymore’.

We’ve all heard it, some of you have probably said it.

Admittedly the days of the industrial revolution where tens of thousands of ‘Derry Girls’ (and some men) walked through a single set of gates to the sound of the factory horn, making shirts and jeans and even record players, seem long gone but they have been replaced with innovative, agile and no less world-renowned manufacturers.

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Stephen Kelly, CEO, Manufacturing NI

It is why local manufacturing leaders have joined forces and are collaborating alongside the Regional College, Ulster University and Invest NI in the new GEMx network, launched last week to support the Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering sector in the North West.

Its Chair Paul Kirkpatrick, from DuPont, tested us all on what the local connection to the flak jacket and baby wipes is. It was a playful reminder that stuff is still made in Derry and Strabane and enjoyed across the world.

Covid changed a lot and also proved a lot. We may have seen much of our capability move east but what our incredible manufacturing leaders have created in its wake has proven to be resilient, creative and critical - whether it is our food producers or our engineers or those who pivoted to meet the emergency on our health frontline, proves the importance of having our own domestic production base.

With the complications of Brexit, supply chain challenges, rapid inflation and an increasingly acute lack of labour, there’s no doubt that the 2020s has already seen the most extraordinarily difficult time to be in a manufacturing business.

Yet despite all that has been thrown at them, the local sector has never been more upbeat.

Our survey published last week shows that two thirds of firms are reporting themselves as growing, compared to 41% in July 2020 as we exited the first Covid lockdown.

Nothing seems capable of stopping the march of our makers.

That is why we have designated May 2022 as Manufacturing Month, to not only cherish but celebrate those who in great businesses, populated by great people, are making great products enjoyed in markets at home and abroad.

Blue chips like KPMG, Pinsent Masons, Lockton, Barclays, and public sector partners Invest NI and the Further Education Colleges recognise the economic and social contribution being made by the sector which is why they’re supporting Manufacturing Month.

Our firms demonstrate every day that they are capable of running towards and quickly tackling problems. Imagine the impact they would have in the region if the right environment was created for them to be successful.

We need a Programme for Government, budget and our Executive back taking local decisions for local people now the election is over. We need the UK and the EU to provide the stability, certainty, simplicity and affordability through agreement on our post-Brexit trading environment. But most importantly, we need to celebrate, if only just for the month of May, the people who make the equipment for our farmers, those who produce our food and even the table it rests upon.

Celebrate those who provide the tech for our phones and computers, the PPE to protect our nurses and, of course, the Lycra for those baby wipes Paul teased us about at the GEMx launch!

Stephen Kelly is CEO of Manufacturing NI.