COMMERCIAL REVIEW: There's Much to Play for on the Political and Economic Landscape; IAN PEARSON Introduces the News Letter's Industrial and Commercial Review, Which Looks Back over the Last Year of Economic Activity in Northern Ireland
Byline: IAN PEARSON, Minister for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment
DOING business is never easy. Competition world-wide is intensifying. There is constant downward pressure on margins. The economic pace of change is quickening rapidly. Product life cycles are getting shorter. And costs in some areas - like insurance - are going through the roof.
Added to this, we have a global economic downturn, an uncertain future international business climate and a local infrastructure that lags behind our most serious competitors.
Why, then, am I so relentlessly upbeat about the prospects for business in Northern Ireland?
Well, for one thing, I have been enormously impressed by the quality of people in business here. The business community has resilience and a real sense of strength and vitality. They have endured the hard times and they have remained constant to their commitment to doing business in very difficult - and, for some, dangerous - circumstances.
I am confident, too, that we shall see an end to the temporary hiatus in devolved government in Northern Ireland. And, with political and social stability, will come progress and opportunity.
A tangible peace dividend in terms of rising company profitability and increased living standards. Northern Ireland's economic development should be driven by Northern Ireland's politicians.
I firmly believe this will happen. It started with the Reinvestment and Reform Initiative - which will help transform the region's infrastructure, making it internationally competitive. This work must continue and tough decisions will need to be taken along the way.
The region has many strengths including a young, well-educated and IT- literate workforce, reasonable labour costs, strong engineering and manufacturing skills and easy access to university expertise and facilities.
Over 70 per cent of all research units in Northern Ireland's universities carry out work of international standing and we have first rate incubation facilities to develop new ideas in cutting edge technologies. The region as a whole is focused on sharp, innovative thinking aimed at creating a well balanced economy.
Over the last five years, local businesses overall have done extremely well. Manufacturing output has risen 15 per cent at a time when it declined by 2.8 per cent across the UK as a whole. Productivity rates have increased at nearly double the UK rate, bringing us more closely into line with the most competitive regions. …