Manufacturing Month is an opportunity to recognise our problem solvers

The manufacturing sector contributes 15 per cent a year to the north's economy - higher than Britain but just half of that in the Republic
The manufacturing sector contributes 15 per cent a year to the north's economy - higher than Britain but just half of that in the Republic

“BEHOLD the turtle, for he makes progress when he sticks his neck out”.

It's a great phrase I first saw on the wall in a small rural primary school a few years back. A playful but powerful message for young impressionable minds as they arrived at school each day.

It reinforced, hopefully inspired, some to have ambition and determination, to make only forward steps.

This month of May is Manufacturing Month. A chance to shine a light on and celebrate those great businesses who make great products with great people that solve problems for customers, consumers and communities at home and across the globe.

We can do that because making stuff is in our DNA and the numbers prove it.

Across the north, some 90,000 people are directly employed in manufacturing and they, in full, provide for another 130,000 jobs meaning that one in four families this Friday depend on a manufacturing wage.

Even in Derry and Strabane, despite perceptions of its demise, manufacturing remains the second largest contributor to private sector employment after retail.

The sector is big and important which is why blue-chip partners like KPMG, Barclays, Mills Selig, CPL, Lockton, Atradius, Invest NI and InterTradeIreland sit alongside us as we celebrate our makers and look at the opportunity to drive wealth into the local economy and our community.

The world’s strongest economies including Germany and China are based on making physical things. The US is bringing their manufacturing jobs back. The western world is now awake to the need to reindustrialise as it recognises that when manufacturing grows, the entire economy grows with it.

Our local manufacturing sector currently contributes around 15 per cent to our GVA (the size of the economy), which is ahead of the UK at 10 per cent, yet just a couple of miles away in the Republic, manufacturing contributes more than one third. It’s no wonder they’ve more money than they know what to spend it on.

Reaching a 20 per cent contribution to GVA through growing exports and increased productivity will sustain strong communities by creating jobs right across the north.

It is achievable. In parts of the north, such as Mid-Ulster, the contribution from manufacturing is already well in excess of this target. That area didn’t see the government rushing to come create the work, so they decided to do it for themselves.

They needed jobs so they created them. They needed customers so they jumped on a plane and travelled to the four corners of the world to get them. Adversity was a test of character, bumps on the road to success seen a chance for our natural problem solvers to learn and get better.

Manufacturing NI was born in Derry 20 years ago and we will welcome a couple of hundred leaders to the Guildhall to close off Manufacturing Month.

As well as learning, it is a chance to explore our unique character and the unique advantage of our post-Brexit position.

An opportunity exists for inward investors and for our local innovators to join the march of our makers - if they, and we, stick our neck out.

:: Stephen Kelly is chief executive of Manufacturing NI