Last Wednesday saw over 200 local business leaders, politicians, and diplomats from around the globe gather in the Houses of Parliament at Westminster to see and hear why Northern Ireland is a leading location to live, visit, do business, and invest.
Along with our colleagues in Hospitality Ulster and Retail NI, the reception was an opportunity to showcase our region to the rest of the UK and the wider world.
As well as showcasing the wider NI economy, last week’s reception was planned as part of Manufacturing Month, a month-long celebration of the good and the great of our local manufacturing and engineering sector.
First launched in March 2020, before being cut short due to the arrival of Covid, Manufacturing Month 2022 is focused on the people who make our sector what it is - a sector full of talent, ingenuity, innovation, and one respected around the world.
Covid changed a lot but also proved a lot. We may have seen much of our capability move east but what our incredible manufacturing leaders have created in its wake has proven to be resilient, creative, and critical. Whether it’s our food producers or our engineers or those who pivoted to meet the emergency on our health front line, the importance of having our own domestic production base has never been clearer.
With the complications of Brexit, supply chain challenges, rapid inflation, and an increasingly acute lack of labour, there’s no doubt that the 2020s has already seen the most extraordinarily difficult time to be in a manufacturing business. Yet, despite all that has been thrown at them, the local sector has never been more upbeat. Our recently published survey of the sector shows that two thirds of firms are reporting themselves as growing compared to 41% in July 2020 as we exited the first Covid lockdown.
Bringing in almost £15bn of external income, more than what Treasury passes back to the Executive to run public services, means that we really don’t have an NI economy if it weren’t for our manufacturers. Which is why it is important that 39% say they have increasing sales in the EU and 40% increasing sales in GB.
And in employment, local firms are returning or creating jobs four times faster than their counterparts in Britain. Nothing seems capable of stopping the march of our makers.
That is why we have designated this month as Manufacturing Month, to cherish and celebrate those in great businesses, populated by great people, and are making great products enjoyed in markets at home and abroad.
Blue chips like KPMG, Pinsent Masons, Lockton, and Barclays, as well as public sector partners Invest NI and the Further Education Colleges, recognise the contribution being made economically and socially by the sector which is why they’re supporting Manufacturing Month.
With the election now firmly behind us, we quickly need a Programme for Government, budget, and our Executive back taking local decisions for local people. We need the UK and the EU to provide the stability, certainty, simplicity, and affordability through agreement on our post-Brexit trading environment.
And with a week left of May, Manufacturing Month has been a golden opportunity to mark the people who make our food and the table it rests upon, those who bring us our machines and motorway bridges, those who put the wings on the planes for our holiday flights, and those who are providing pharmaceuticals and the PPE to protect our nurses.