On 12th June 2019, the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Invest NI ran the ‘Learn Grow Excel - Explore Export’ conference in Belfast. Featuring a line-up of support organisations and successful exporter case studies, the event highlighted the positive work being done in the region to increase an international outlook among its businesses.
The IOE&IT was delighted to support the event, which showcased the best of Northern Irish exports. Our Director General, Lesley Batchelor OBE, gave a presentation about the global trade landscape and appeared on a panel discussing the support that is available for exporters in the region. Several IOE&IT members attended the event.
Cause for optimism, despite Brexit uncertainty
Tanya Anderson, Head of International and SME Development, Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, opened the event alongside Steve Harper, an Executive Director for Invest NI. Both spoke of the great strides the nation has taken in recent years to increase its exports, following a recent report from HMRC which showed that its exports had grown in the 2018/19 financial year by 4.4% to £9.0bn.
The event was sponsored by local business Ulster Carpets, represented by Elaine Patterson, who recalled the company’s journey in international trade. She claimed that without their exporting successes, the company would likely not have survived for as long as it has, with exports now making up 80% of their sales.
She was followed by Neil Gibson, Chief Economist, EY Ireland, who were support sponsors for the event. Mr Gibson gave an overview of the current economic climate, suggesting that low unemployment figures suggest an economy in rude health, but forewarning the risks that Brexit nonetheless present.
Support organisations in the region, including the Institute
As a UK-wide organisation, the IOE&IT has long been keen to show that it supports businesses in Northern Ireland looking to trade overseas. We were therefore delighted to have been invited to speak and attend the conference, following our two previous World Trade Summits in Belfast in 2017 and 2018.
Our Director General, Lesley Batchelor OBE, appeared alongside representatives from InterTradeIreland, UK Export Finance, InvestNI, and the Chamber of Commerce on a panel discussing the support that is out there for companies new to international trade. Lesley also gave a short presentation going further into the support the IOE&IT can provide and explaining why it really matters now that businesses treat exporting seriously, viewing it as a professional skill that needs to be properly learnt.
More inspiring case studies show how it’s done
The rest of the agenda comprised of more exporter case studies, each of them sharing their learnings and successes in international trade.
The second roundtable of the day comprised of Roger Pannell (Unicorn Hygienics), Glenn Robinson (Tobermore), Stephanie Mills (Firefly) and a reappearance from Elaine Patterson (Ulster Carpets). Each spoke about how businesses in Northern Ireland were in the interesting position of being able to treat either mainland Britain or the Republic of Ireland to the south as useful first markets to prove their capability to sell over overseas or over borders.
The panel was followed by Ian Forrester from STATSports, who export GPS performance-tracking technology to elite sports team including Arsenal, Man Utd and Juventus. Their story of rapid international growth was inspiring for all in attendance, especially given the notoriety of their clients.
A nation not to be underrated
The entire day was a great showcase for exporting businesses and support organisations in Northern Ireland. The IOE&IT remains committed to supporting businesses in all corners of the UK, including Northern Ireland.
Several speakers, including Lesley, noted that businesses need to make the most of the high esteem in which the Northern Irish and the city of Belfast are held around the world. The energy of everyone in the room was a testament to this, and despite continued uncertainty around Brexit, there was a feeling of great optimism throughout the day.