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Hamilton Says Retail Is Big Key To Economic Regeneration
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STRANGFORD MLA Simon Hamilton has told the Retail NI Conference that the retail sector will play an important role in regenerating the local economy.

Speaking at the conference at the Stormont Hotel, Simon Hamilton, who is the Assembly Private Secretary to the Finance Minister, said, “I think that sometimes retail is viewed unfairly as inferior to all other forms of employment and that it’s contribution to the economy is second rate to say manufacturing.

“What is often overlooked is the sheer size of the retail sector in Northern Ireland. Some 18% of all employees work in retail related companies while nearly 9% of all businesses are retail ones. A sector that size can in no way be described as second rate.

“Obviously, as we try to rebuild our economy, we will need to pay special attention to certain sectors especially those in the high tech industries but the need to develop a mixed economy cannot be overlooked. Retail is a huge element of that.

Simon Hamilton MLA at the Retail NI Conference with Alex Gourley, Chief Executive of the Health & Beauty Division at Boots, Alex Attwood MLA, Environment Minister, and Joe Jordan, President of the Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce.

“Retail developments can kick-start the regeneration of our towns. We have seen this recently with the new Tesco in Newtownards which has brought significant investment to the town and attracted new stores to the area for the first time.  Asda’s store on the Main Street in Bangor has been a catalyst for the rejuvenation of that part of the town centre.  So retail can be a driver for wider investment.”

Mr Hamilton also said that retail is also critical to developing our Northern Ireland tourism product and added that visitors might come here  for our scenery or heritage or culture but when they are here, many will want to spend time in our shops.

He added, “In order to play an even greater role in regenerating our economy, I think it is vital that the retail sector continues to invest heavily in developing skills.  People understandably demand high standards of service in the shops they go to so it is important that organisations like the South Eastern Regional College continue to focus on improving retail skills.

“Retailers also need to work more closely together in partnerships.  In my experience, the strongest town centres are those with vibrant and dynamic Chambers of Trade.  I look forward to legislation coming forward to create Business Improvement Districts which will encourage a partnership approach in towns between retailers who can group together to work on shared interests.

“All in all, in spite of the tough economic times, I believe that Northern Ireland’s retail offering is steadily improving all the time and can and will be key to regenerating the local economy”.