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Collaboration the key to stimulating North West economy

Greater collaboration betweengovernment and business, a concentrated focus on supporting local SMEs and morestrategic investment in infrastructure were all identified as key drivers tothe future of the North West economy during a lively debate inDerry-Londonderry yesterday.

The debate, the third in a seriesof Danske Advantage events hosted by Danske Bank, was held in partnership withthe Londonderry Chamber of Commerce and saw around 100 business leaders gatherat the Great Hall in Ulster University’s Magee campus.

Speakers and panel members at thedebate included Finance Minister Arlene Foster, Environment Minister Mark H.Durkan, John Kelpie, CEO of Derry City & Strabane District Council,Professor Paddy Nixon, Vice Chancellor of Ulster University and John McGrillen,CEO of Tourism NI. 

The wide ranging debate highlighteda number of well-known challenges facing the North West, including the need to increaseemployment, attract more foreign direct investment and improve connectivity tothe rest of Northern Ireland. But it also highlighted the potential to create athriving tech sector based around the North West Science Park and theopportunity that exists for the new Derry & Strabane Council to accelerateeconomic development in the region.

There have been a number ofeconomic strategies for the region and roundtable leaders acknowledged thatdecision-makers at key government and business organisations must commit to puttingthose plans into practice.

Gerry Kindlon, president of theLondonderry Chamber of Commerce, said: “What is missing from the public debatein Northern Ireland is a consideration of how a long-term strategy ofinvestment, local enterprise development and entrepreneurial public policycould collectively transform the North West economy. What we got yesterday wasthe sort of full and frank engagement that needs to be taking place on anongoing basis if we are to overcome the issues affecting progress.”

Finance Minister Arlene Fostersaid: “The Executive remains focussed on delivering its economic strategy andit’s crucial the partnership work underway with Invest NI, the Chamber andother stakeholders continues in order to develop its Integrated EconomicStrategy.  This joined-up approach willcontribute to the development of the regional economy and our overall objectiveto rebuild and rebalance the Northern Ireland economy.

“Invest Northern Ireland’s recordin the North West shows it has delivered local results with over 650 jobspromoted, over 800 new jobs created and a 60 per cent increase in investment tothe sum of £64m in 2014/15.

“The North West Regional SciencePark also plays a very important role in developing the local economy.  It demonstrates the strong footprint of theKnowledge Economy in the North West region as well as the Science Park at FortGeorge which will continue to provide an important hub to promote and stimulateinnovation activity in the local area. We look to grow a private sector focussed on high value added sectorsgenerating economic wealth and prosperity for all.” 

Danske Bank has invested £2m refurbishingits Shipquay Place branch and Finance Centre and said it has seen a 30 per centyear on year increase in lending to local businesses in the North West through theFinance Centre.

“The purpose of this event was toprovide a platform for the North West business community to discuss with keydecision makers the challenges they face and the opportunities that exist forgrowth” said Redmond McFadden, head of Danske’s Derry-Londonderry FinanceCentre.

“There is a lot of media attentionon large FDI announcements and of course we certainly want Foreign DirectInvestment in the North West but we must also not lose sight of the importanceof supporting and developing our SMEs. At Danske we see good potential forgrowth in the North West in the manufacturing, healthcare, tourism, energy anddigital sectors. The increase in lending through Danske Bank’s Finance Centrein the city is also testament to this recovery.”