CLAIRE AIKEN: Investment summit showcases our wares to the world

Investors from all over the world - and some politicians - attended the Northern Ireland Investment Summit
Claire Aiken

IT'S not every day Northern Ireland is described as one of the ‘most exciting places in the world’.

Yet that was very much the case last week when it was thrust on to the global stage during the much-anticipated Northern Ireland Investment Summit, where upwards of 120 investors from all across the world heard first-hand the business case for tapping into the opportunities on our doorstep.

Local exhibitors hailing from the industries of cyber security, life and health sciences, engineering, the green economy and further afield gathered in Belfast for what was essentially a day-long sales pitch for Northern Ireland as a prosperous place for businesses of all sizes to start, scale and succeed.

Even in the context of a political stalemate, positivity around the event was palpable, as local business leaders and entrepreneurs from every walk of life showcased the North’s key growth areas as potential new business streams for investors worldwide.

One such exhibitor, Terex, first planted roots in Northern Ireland in 1999 for its ‘legacy of manufacturing excellence’, academia network and proximity to Europe and North America. The unique position that Northern Ireland possess as a prime business location for market accessibility, quickly became a common theme throughout the Summit. The proposition that, should a foreign business wish to serve both Europe and the UK, Northern Ireland’s connectivity with both markets presents a strategic and logistical solution for many.

The unique opportunity that is dual market access is rightly starting to build momentum, with official figures showing the tide of inward investment to Northern Ireland is growing. Last year, the Department for the Economy published research from Wavteq which ranked the north as the fourth among European regions in terms of the ‘percentage of its foreign direct investment (FDI) accounted for by high-tech sectors’. An impressive standing in that rapidly evolving world of tech, yet we know there is much more work to do.

Wavteq’s report forecasts that, over the period 2021-25, Northern Ireland may average 41 FDI projects on an annual basis, leading to the creation of 2,000+ jobs per year and yet Ireland registered 184 FDI projects in 2022 alone.

To capitalise on the tangible success stories of Aflac, IBM Security and other companies as the real-world business cases for leveraging Northern Ireland’s unique location, we must showcase and shout about our dual access.

There is no doubt that the missing in the room last week was the Northern Ireland Executive, with First Minister and deputy First Minister confidently speaking with one voice on the opportunities for inward investment. We can only hope that we have that leadership in place sooner rather than later.

But in their absence, it was a case of the old adage ‘the show must go on’, and go on it did. What really resonated with attendees was the confidence and positivity with which those leading business figures and established entrepreneurs spoke, who themselves have carved out a space to call their own in Northern Ireland and reaped the rewards for doing so.

This week was a first step, a start, on the road that needs to be travelled to propel the potential of dual market access and inward investment. As a region Northern Ireland must build on this, not only through this conference and the planned US trade delegation’s visit in the coming weeks, but by consistently building our advocacy globally.

In parallel to this we need to radically expedite the delivery of our net zero infrastructure and a skillset fit for 2030 and beyond. If we can achieve this, it can be game changer, in the delivery of a more prosperous and sustainable economy and society for everyone. Surely that’s a goal worthy of the meeting of political minds, and actions!

:: Claire Aiken is managing director at Aiken