Connected locally, growing globally

agendaNi put questions to Alan Armstrong, CEO of Almac Group, one of the flagship companies of Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council and a key driver of local enterprise and economic development.

Who is Almac?

The Almac Group is an established contract development and manufacturing organisation providing an extensive range of innovative, integrated services to pharmaceutical and biotech companies throughout the world.

Our global Headquarters are based in Craigavon, Northern Ireland. In addition we have eleven other operational facilities across Europe, the US and Asia.

Almac play a vital role in the development, manufacture and commercialisation of pharmaceutical products from concept to patient delivery. We have been established for almost 50 years and employ almost 5,000 people across our global sites – a majority (around 3,000) of whom are based in Northern Ireland.

How has Northern Ireland’s economy diversified in the direction of innovative new sectors and R&D? Has this shift happened quickly enough?

Almac has always strived to deliver the most innovative service, indeed we need to as our clients demand this from us. Our offering is cutting edge in each of the service areas we offer within the drug development pipeline; from developing game-changers in the areas of personalised medicine and diagnostics, to the latest offering in product temperature management in drug distribution, Almac is recognised as market leading in our innovation.

With regard to our industry, Pharmaceutical R&D expenditure in the UK alone within the last two years was £4.2 billion and represented the largest of all sectors including IT, aerospace and machinery (Source: ONS – UK Gross domestic expenditure on Research and Development). We are delighted to be a part of this movement, showcasing our talent, expertise and skill on a global stage.

How has the digital age enabled a company like Almac to diversify and enter new markets?

Digital platforms, and technology as a whole, have made supporting our global clients much easier. We are able to share information instantly, communicate more effectively and deliver an improved client service. Indeed, one of our businesses, Almac Clinical Technologies is driving innovation in its Interactive Response Technology (IRT) offering which enables efficient clinical trial management for both patient and investigator. In addition, the methods in which we manufacture and develop products and services within Almac has become much more innovative as a result of either procuring or developing our own cutting edge tech e.g. online label approval systems, HAPA blister printing technology etcetera – which enables us to maintain our competitive edge.

At Almac we believe that to achieve the maximum benefit of digital innovation you must put it in the hands of vastly experienced industry experts and professionals. This unique combination of experience and innovation offers an unbeatable offering to clients.

Alan Armstrong, CEO of Almac Group.

“Our recruitment efforts focus on both international and national, with a considerable proportion of employees coming from the immediate vicinity.”

What is Almac’s presence within ABC borough and what does the area offer Almac as a global company?

Almac’s headquarters are firmly established in the ABC area, employing over 3,000 people and therefore we are regarded as a flagship company – specifically in terms of economic impact to the immediate localities via employment, suppliers and utilities. The location of our HQ campus provides direct, and easy, access to our many global visitors including high profile pharmaceutical and biotech clients, auditors from regulatory bodies including the MHRA and FDA in addition to other key stakeholders who wish to discover more about our organisation. In turn, all visitors make use of local hotels, restaurants and social venues right on our doorstep. We believe our significant recent expansion announcements, totalling over £50 million of investment, here in Craigavon, in the EU and the US, are great news both for Almac and the borough.

As a major employer in the area, how accessible are the necessary skills which Almac require? Is there room for improvement in this area? How important is collaboration with further education colleges and higher education institutions?

Our recruitment efforts focus on both international and national, with a considerable proportion of employees coming from the immediate vicinity. As we continue to expand and due to the nature of some highly technical and skilled roles we often have to recruit internationally. As a result, many of these non-national employees relocate to Northern Ireland – within and outside the borough – whom Almac support throughout. We have a comprehensive outreach programme linking with local schools, universities and academic institutions including Southern Regional College. I feel there is more to be done in terms of encouraging STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects in schools and we will continue to play our part by working with CCEA and other bodies to address this need.

What is the relationship between Almac and ABC Council?

We continue to work with the Council in a number of different areas, from skills development through to the life sciences strategy. We welcome the opportunity to support these activities, in light of our future requirements for skilled staff as well having the necessary infrastructure to support the sector.

We support ABC Council in a variety of ways, most recently we were proud to be lead sponsor of their inaugural business awards by sponsoring ‘The Sir Allen McClay Young Business Person’ category. We feel this award aligns perfectly to Almac’s vision and core values and enables us to celebrate and recognise entrepreneurs and business owners in the area who have driven their own success.

Can larger companies benefit from the greater expansion of start-ups and SMEs within the borough?

There is always room for entrepreneurship and innovation. We encourage it as much as possible and see the value in developing and expanding knowledge hubs to facilitate learning, mentoring and growth together. Not only will the growth of start-ups and SMEs attract talent to our borough, but it will also encourage more foreign direct investment who wish to leverage the unique talent and skill set we often display in Northern Ireland.
The support provided to our multiple contractors, suppliers and agencies across Northern Ireland also has a positive aggregate effect within the economy. Almac and other larger companies can all benefit from this as we seek to grow and be innovative – learning from our neighbours is an excellent way in which to pursue this.

What are some of the challenges for businesses in regards to mnk enterprise and economic development?

As mentioned earlier, our core asset is our people and having access to skilled and experienced individuals is vital however certainly poses a challenge in Northern Ireland. In addition, red tape and legislation regarding exporting, specifically pharmaceutical and clinical material, can be inhibitive however, Almac ensure we facilitate and expedite material through our depot network hubs strategically located throughout the world. Staying ahead of the competition and using research and forecasts to make informed, strategic decisions regarding key objectives and goals. However, this can always be a challenge when the economic or political landscape changes without warning.

Outline Almac’s vision for the future?

Almac’s vision and strategy is clear – we continue to provide innovative, best-in-class services to our global client base, enabling Almac to expand and develop in strategic locations and ensuring we maintain our competitive edge in the market place. We recognise the importance of Almac’s core asset – our people and we strive to be an employer of choice, attracting and developing skilled individuals within the organisation. We are committed to delivery upon our overarching vision – to be the leader in the generation of superior solutions for the advancement of human health.

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