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Economic Recovery Being Built On Firm Foundations Says Hamilton
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Finance Minister Simon Hamilton MLA has told an audience of business men and women that a strong and successful Belfast is a key component of economic recovery in Northern Ireland. 

Speaking at the Belfast Media Group’s ‘Belfast Business Top 50 Awards’, the Finance Minister also stated that economic recovery in Northern Ireland is being built upon firm foundations. 

Addressing the event in Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Simon Hamilton said: “The importance of Belfast to the Northern Ireland economy cannot be underestimated. It is the gateway through which the majority of tourists enter Northern Ireland. It is the place that scores of blue chip companies choose to invest in. And, it is an enormous driver of economic activity across the whole of our country. Northern Ireland needs a socially, culturally and economically strong Belfast.

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“We have all witnessed the transformation of Belfast over the past decade. It has become a vibrant, dynamic and cosmopolitan European capital city. With its radically altered skyline and globally recognised events like the MTV Awards, we are beginning to build the Belfast we were denied during the Troubles.”

“The Review of Public Administration presents us with an unprecedented opportunity to continue that positive change by utilising the powers that will be devolved to the new Council to invest in much needed infrastructure.

“Tonight though is a night to recognise the economic success of Belfast and recognise and reward some of Belfast’s most talented entrepreneurs and business men and women. 

“Belfast and Northern Ireland have come through tough economic times. At long last, the signs are filling us with hope instead of despair. Unemployment, business activity, activity in the housing market, tourism numbers and spending are all heading in the right direction. 

“What we’ve hopefully learnt during the downturn is that the economy that emerges from the crisis will be a distinctly different one from that which entered it in 2007. It isn’t a matter of riding out the storm and seeing us return to the boom times of the early part of this century. The new normal will be lower growth and less public spending. Companies will need to innovate continually and persistently look outside Northern Ireland for new opportunities.” 

The Minister added: “The recession has taken countless casualties. Many stalwarts of the Belfast economy have not survived. In spite of what we’ve endured and the challenges that remain, I am confident that the new economy we are building in Northern Ireland is being constructed on firm foundations. 

“Our investment in skills, infrastructure and telecommunications has seen Belfast become a global centre for ICT and financial services. The heyday of heavy engineering backed up by cheap labour may be gone but it is being replaced by a hi-tech, innovative and knowledge based economy. We are still exemplars in many industries like engineering where companies like Wrightbus and Bombardier are applying innovation to their companies to compete around the world. 

“Ten years ago, who would have thought that internationally renowned companies with instantly recognisable brands like NYSE and CME would call Belfast their home? The decisions by these and other companies to invest in Belfast coupled with the creativity of Northern Ireland’s own companies will ensure that the future of our economy is full of promise.”

Addressing the audience and award winners Minister Hamilton said: “We will this evening acknowledge and award Belfast’s best social entrepreneur. Northern Ireland’s economic woes are often ascribed to having too big a public sector. The answer is always offered as growing the private sector. Our private sector does need to grow. It isn’t so much an issue of making our public sector smaller but more one of making it smarter and our public sector needs to become smaller and smarter. 

“The rise in the number of social enterprises shows that there are other models and that the future of the Northern Ireland economy is very much a mix between public, private and social enterprise. No one way is better than another. They all have merits. And there are lessons for us in government from how successful social enterprises are in delivering services especially in hard to reach communities.

“I am also incredibly encouraged by the growing realisation that companies have of its role and responsibility beyond business. Clearly the number one focus of any firm is to trade and create jobs in the process but the increasing awareness across industry of their social, environmental and community responsibilities. I am impressed by how companies and their employees are increasingly involved in activities not just because it is a nice thing to do but because it’s good for their business. It indicates that we’ve learnt the lessons of the past and bodes well for a future where business plays a broader, more responsible role in the communities in which they operate.”

“A more innovative economy. A more diverse economy. And a more responsible economy. These are the firm foundations upon which we will build a better economy not just for Belfast but for the whole of Northern Ireland.”