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Invest NI hosted just five potential overseas investors in Newry in three years, new figures suggest

Invest NI's Belfast headquarters 
Ryan McAleer

INVEST NI has faced fresh accusations of being too Belfast-centric when it comes to attracting foreign direct investment (FDI).

New data released by the economic support agency revealed it hosted 741 potential overseas investors over a three-year period between 2016/17 and 2018/19.

According to a constituency break-down of the figures by Invest NI, it hosted just five visits in Newry and Armagh and just a single visit in Mid-Ulster in the three years.

Foyle hosted 22 visits, but South Down and Strangford hosted zero.

SDLP MLA for Newry and Armagh, Justin McNulty, who obtained the figures from Economy Minister Diane Dodds, said the figures showed that 85 per cent of all potential inward investors had been hosted by Invest NI in Belfast.

He described the figures as ‘astonishing’.

“Of the 741 visits hosted, 398 or 53 per cent of those visits were to south Belfast. In total Belfast secured 634 or 85 per cent of FDI visits. This is an astonishing indictment and demonstrates a total regional imbalance in efforts to secure investment here.

“We all know that Belfast is the region’s capital and that many jobs tend to gravitate around universities and further education colleges, however, surely government policy should be to attract investment on a more balanced and equitable basis across the north.”

But the economic support body defended its regional record by stating the number of inward visits was not reflective of the work going on around the north.

It said that it works with all 11 councils to help grow investment and the economy in every part of the north.

Invest NI admitted that while the vast majority of its visit programmes start in Belfast, they can move on to other locations. But in certain cases, it said investors face time pressure and are hosted at its headquarters in Belfast for convenience.

The body went on to state that three-quarters of the firms in Northern Ireland to benefit from its financial packages are located outside Belfast.

“Investment comes in many forms and a set of figures about the number of inward visits is not reflective of the work that is going on,” a spokesperson said.

“For example, nearly 75 per cent of Invest NI’s offers are to companies outside of Belfast, with investments such as the 237 jobs being created by Newry based STATSports, or the £1.4m capital investment in a new manufacturing facility by Armagh based Davison Canners manufacturing.

“What is more relevant is that over the last five years, nearly 40 per cent of investors chose to locate their project outside of Belfast.”

Justin McNulty said: “As this region prepares for the unknown that Brexit will bring, we must see a greater focus on protecting border communities in the time ahead.

“And, Invest NI as a publicly funded body should place more emphasis on exploring and seeking more regionally balanced investment.”

Stephen Kelly is the Derry-based head of Manufacturing NI. Most of the firms he works with and represents are located outside of Belfast.

He said that the north’s unique status after Brexit could be used as a carrot for attracting major investment from manufacturers.

“Given our status post-Brexit, being uniquely able to sell to Britain and goods freely circulating within the EUs market, there is an opportunity for Invest NI to put a bigger focus on manufacturing firms new to Northern Ireland,” he said.

“The international firms who have made here their home have reinvested.

“Telling their story plus promoting our unique status should be attractive to more FDI visitors keen to explore investment opportunities outside of Belfast city centre.”

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