Newry Chamber of Commerce & Trade was delighted to host Economy Minister Gordon Lyons on his visit to Newry on Wednesday
The meeting took place at AbbeyAutoline offices on the Rathfriland Road and he was briefed on the latest developments in the business community.
Julie Gibbons, newly elected President of Newry Chamber, commented “We want to thank the Minister for engaging with us. We had a wide ranging discussion around the priorities and opportunities for organisations operating in the Greater Newry region. Despite the obvious ongoing challenges of Covid, Brexit and the resulting uncertainty, there is a great deal of optimism and ambition amongst our members.
We highlighted that we represent an internationally focused region, with significant assets including a strategic location on the eastern economic corridor, a strong multi-sectorial business base, and successful educational providers ensuring the skills and the talent to achieve long term economic growth and stability.
Newry’s strength is its entrepreneurial spirit which has been at the heart of business growth. Small local businesses have been developed into global businesses – FD Technologies, Norbrook Laboratories, The MJM Group, ReGen Waste, DeliLites and Statsports to name just a few. We have also seen business start ups double during the pandemic.
There is real excitement locally following the signing of the City Deal before Christmas. This will support the regeneration of Newry and surrounding area. Projects like the Southern Relief Road, Albert Basin Park, new Civic Centre and Conference/Arts Centre will transform the city. In addition, the Narrow Water Bridge project is progressing and offers significant tourism potential by linking communities across Carlingford Lough. This public sector investment will undoubtedly attract further private sector investment
We commended the Minister for the High Street voucher scheme that ran over the autumn period. This provided a welcome boost for many of our retail members. We highlighted our desire to see a shop local voucher programme being established in Newry.
We did stress that the most significant issue for our members was a people and skills shortage which is impacting our growth. Firms across multiple sectors including retail, hospitality, fin tech, construction, food production and engineering have vacancies they cannot currently fill as people lack the required skills. This is something we would like to work with the Department of Economy on.
The Minister took the opportunity to update to the Chamber on the Department for the Economy’s vision for the next 10 years, called "10X Economy – a decade of innovation". The vision is to deliver a ten times (10X) better economy that benefits for all the people of Northern Ireland.
The Minister said: “I was delighted to come to Newry to engage with businesses from the city and the surrounding area to discuss the issues affecting the local area. It was also an opportunity showcase our vision for a 10x Economy. Our local businesses, such as those represented by the Chamber, remain the backbone of our economy and their input will be critical in achieving the ambition set out in the vision.
“The 10x Vision sets out an ambitious and bold vision for our economy to improve through a decade of innovation. The ambition reflects the scale of the challenges ahead and the opportunity we have to make a generational change in response to the Covid-19 pandemic as well as respond to the impacts of climate change and advancements in areas such as technology. The overarching aim will be to deliver an economy which is ten times more innovative, more inclusive and more sustainable for the benefit of all our people.
“I was assured to hear that our 10x vision aligns with the Chamber’s vision to make the area a premier destination for retail, tourism, investment, entrepreneurship and employment and importantly a happy, healthy place to live and work.”
The Minister also congratulated the Chamber on celebrating its 200th anniversary in 2021 and membership growth of 30% to over 240 over the last two years. This demonstrates that the business community are keen to collaborate and work with a range of stakeholders in order for the region to fulfil its potential.