Roger Wilson, Chief Executive of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, explains how manufacturing, and particularly advanced manufacturing, is the backbone of the borough and is a key part of collaborative plans for economic growth in the future.
Manufacturing lies at the heart of the economy in the Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough.
We make things – we always have; it’s in our DNA – and we export those products to the far-off corners of the world on a daily basis. Whether it’s engineering, food or pharmaceutical products, goods from this area are highly prized and find a willing market both at home and further afield.
Companies like Smurfit Kappa, Almac, Moy Park, Cross Refrigeration, Hyster-Yale Group, JW Kane Precision Engineering are just a few of the innovators who make up a sector which is home to a host of brilliant indigenous names and globally recognised inward investors. Whether local or global, all are drawn by our skill and expertise in a sector which plays a big part in the lives of a large proportion of the population here.
A total of 15 per cent of the people employed in this locality work in the manufacturing sector – a higher percentage than in Northern Ireland as a whole. Meanwhile, two of our industrial estates, where many manufacturers are based, represent one of the most industrious square miles of real estate in western Europe. Carn and Seagoe easily notch up £1 billion worth of GVA (gross value added) each year between them, a statistic which is all the more impressive when you consider total GVA in Northern Ireland in 2016 was just over £37 billion.
While many companies throughout the borough fall under the manufacturing umbrella, an increasing number are classified in the advanced end of the sector. Advanced manufacturers have placed innovative technologies at the heart of their businesses, not just to reduce manufacturing costs but to broaden their production capabilities and product portfolio.
By taking such an approach, they have cemented the future of their businesses, opened up new markets and helped upskill the employee base here in the Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough. We, as a council, realise that advanced manufacturing holds huge potential for our area’s economy and we have put plans in place – through our Corporate Plan – to do all within our power to assist them to grow.
We have been actively promoting the fact that our borough is open for business, we have been pushing forward with plans to develop high quality infrastructure, we have provided a one-stop shop to investors and business start-ups and have been working to raise awareness of advanced manufacturing to school pupils while also facilitating opportunities for upskilling in conjunction with local schools and colleges.
While we realise we have a compelling offering and huge potential in advanced manufacturing, we aren’t naïve enough to think we can look to a future in isolation. We’re only too aware that the global market place is highly competitive and needs a collaborative approach. It is for that reason that we have joined up with our near neighbours to pool our resources for the greater good of Northern Ireland.
Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, and Mid Ulster District Council are working together to develop a proposition for a growth/city deal to boost economic growth and deliver a step change in the fortunes of all three council areas. We have jointly written to Chancellor Philip Hammond stating that a growth/city deal would address specific economic needs and provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity, not just for our council areas, but for the whole of Northern Ireland.
A bespoke deal for the region would sit alongside the propositions being developed for a Belfast Region City Deal – given the green light in the Chancellor’s autumn budget – and a
Derry-Londonderry City Deal. It would see the three councils, which represent one-quarter of Northern Ireland’s population, working together to develop a strategic economic plan focused on improving productivity; creating more and better jobs; addressing economic infrastructure; growing investment; supporting business innovation; and improving skills. The deal will help grow an already strong economy.
Collectively the region is home to one-third of all Northern Ireland’s businesses (34 per cent), which provide over 200,000 jobs, three-quarters of which are in the private sector – a higher proportion than the UK average – and offer support to the already strong sectors including agri-food, engineering, construction, tourism and, crucially, advanced manufacturing. Taken together, the latter sector’s importance cannot be too strongly impressed, as recent analysis shows.
Manufacturing in the mid, south and west councils accounts for 35 per cent of GVA and 18 per cent of employment, a much larger percentage than for other areas of Northern Ireland. The three council areas are hugely important to the broader manufacturing sector in Northern Ireland with 39 per cent of manufacturing employment found there and 23 per cent of manufacturing GVA. It stands to reason, therefore, that by working together the mid, south and west council areas can be stronger in helping to grow the sector, particularly the advanced manufacturing sector.
We can focus on upskilling employees – many of whom cross the council boundaries on a daily basis – in key skills such as automation, artificial intelligence and IT so they are able to drive their businesses forward and compete with the best in the world. Together we can make joined-up plans to improve infrastructure, such as roads and broadband, which will help our advanced manufacturers in their daily processes and together we can pitch for international investment, a key part of the modern economic mix. The end result will be three council areas which have all the components in place to allow advanced manufacturing companies to flourish in a global market.
This joint approach is typical of the collaborative thinking which will make sure our efforts bear fruit, not just for the manufacturing sector but for Northern Ireland as a whole by working in tandem with the Belfast Region City Deal and the proposed Derry-Londonderry City Deal.
As councils, we realise our role is to support businesses as much as we can, and a growth/city deal will enable us to play our part as the economic engine room, powering up the Northern Ireland economy to drive prosperity for all in the future.
For more information:
T: 0300 0300 900