Firms focused on export are outperforming those trading solely in the domestic market and the gap between them is widening according to new figures from InterTradeIreland.
The latest quarterly Business Monitor Report highlights an overall continuing picture of solid recovery with 88% of businesses on the island reporting growth.
However the disparity between domestic market traders and those engaging in export is increasing.
The research indicates there is a gap in growth between Northern Ireland, where 32% of firms reported growth this quarter, compared to 41% in Ireland, which is almost a direct reversal of the 2015 Q4 findings when 41% of Northern Ireland SMEs reported growth as opposed to 34% based in Ireland.
This quarter, across the island, an imbalance was also seen in the size of firms that are growing, with more medium (55%) and large (60%) firms in growth mode compared to only 36% of smaller firms.
The benefits of exporting are clearly seen in the survey, with 52% of those trading in the cross border market reporting growth this quarter, compared to 34% of companies which are solely active in their domestic market.
Just under two thirds of these SMEs (62%) are based in Northern Ireland and have sold their products and services within the Republic of Ireland in the last 12 months, accelerating their growth and development.
“With a general ambition to grow reported by 55% of firms in Northern Ireland, awareness of and access to business supports has never been more vital to help them overcome initial reticence towards exporting,” said Strategy and Policy director Aidan Gough.
“With a well-thought out strategy, businesses can move onto a growth trajectory or pathway that is consistent with the strategy outlined in the ‘Export Matters Action Plan’ launched recently by the then Department for Enterprise Trade and Investment now known as the Department for the Economy.”
In terms of sectoral performance, figures for the manufacturing sector, while broadly positive, point to some concerns.
“In particular, decreases in the numbers reporting sales and employment growth over the past quarter.
“On the other hand, the construction sector continues to rebound from its low point eight years ago.
“The outlook for employment remains cautiously positive with 13% of businesses planning to increase jobs and only 1% planning to decrease employment in the next year,” added Mr Gough.