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Ritchie Calls On Invest NI Chief For More Support
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SDLP Party Leader and South Down MP Margaret Ritchie has challenged Invest NI to redouble their efforts to maximise foreign direct investment into South Down.

Ms Ritchie said, “I was displeased to learn through Assembly questions that there has been serious inactivity of foreign direct investment visits in Down District compared to other council areas.

“I therefore invited the Chief Executive of Invest NI, Alastair Hamilton, to join me in visiting Down District and meeting with the business community. Today’s visit (Friday 11th February) provides the opportunity for Down District to be showcased in terms of location, the pump priming of small to medium sized enterprises, the level of skilled population, and available training resources.

“This is an occasion to promote St Patrick’s Country and the Mournes in relation to stimulating the economy and job creation. I have asked the Chief Executive of Invest NI to pay special attention to South Down, an area of particular prominence, where people can do business.

Pictured after a meeting at Down Business Centre are South Down MP Margaret Ritchie, centre, with (l-r) Invest NI Chief Executive Alistair Hamilton, Down Business Forum members Pat Cassidy (Chairman) and Stephen Magorrian, Down District Councillor Collin McGrath,, Martin Gilchrist, Social Media Association for Business, Down Business Centre Manager Janice Symington and Sharon O'Connor, Down District Council Director of Economic and Cultural Development.

“We have a large, willing workforce in South Down who are skilled and experienced. It is vital, given our excellent location for investment, foreign direct investment is secured to increase business productivity, the means by which wealth can be created for the benefit of the whole community.

“Today I have challenged the Invest NI Chief Executive to increase investment in Down District by identifying a number of key areas where our community and district would benefit. These including a new hotel for Downpatrick and the potential for increased activity and investment in the Down Business Park.

“Invest NI need to support projects in Down District which will create jobs, business competitiveness, growth opportunities, and improve productivity. I hope today’s visit impressed upon Invest NI that Down District is not only open for business, but is fit for the challenge.”

Invest NI Chief Executive Alastair Hamilton met a broad range of public and business representatives along with South Down MP Margaret Ritchie.  They first met with Down Business Centre and had a tour of Lowden Guitars, a world famous company, before being given a presentation on the Down area by Sharon O’Conor, the Down District Council’s Director of Economic and Cultural Development. They also discussed the challenges facing local companies with members of the Downpatrick Business Forum headed by their chairman Pat Cassidy, and examined range of supports available from Invest NI to help local business grow. Forum Chairman Pat Cassidy said that it would take a very strong collective approach by all groups to bring inward investment and jobs to Down District.

Mr Hamilton and Ms Ritchie also met with Ken Webb, Chief Executive of the South East Regional College, before travelling on to Kilkeel where members of the Kilkeel Development Association outlined some of the projects which the organisation is undertaking, including the Binnian Enterprise Centre and The Nautilus Centre.

Commenting on the visit, which included visits to two Invest NI clients in South Down, Thompson Aero Seating Ltd and Copas Tool and Die Ltd, Mr Hamilton said, “ I am delighted that Kilkeel Development Association is working closely with us on a number of fronts. Our Sustainable Development team is working with Kilkeel Development Association and Warrenpoint Harbour Authority to identify local businesses that have the capability necessary to work on various aspects of the offshore wind and marine energy supply chains, whilst we are also looking at how the cookery school which is being developed, can be supported through Export Start Assistance.”

Mr Hamilton ended his day of visits, meeting representatives of Warrenpoint Burren Rostrevor Chamber of Commerce and the Eastern Border Region.

After the series of meetings Alastair Hamilton said on Friday, “Today has been extremely interesting and informative. It is clear that there is a drive and determination within the local business communities of South Down to accelerate economic development and create god quality jobs. Companies such as Thompson Aero Seating have shown that locally owned Northern Ireland companies can be truly global players. For our part, Invest NI is committed to providing the widest range of appropriate support to enable them to meet their goals.”

Ritchie Welcomes Chancelleors Commitment To NI Growth Fund

SDLP Leader and South Down MP Margaret Ritchie has welcomed a commitment from the chancellor, George Osborne, that the banking industry’s £1.2bn Regional Growth Fund will have a presence in Northern Ireland.

Mr Osborne confirmed this in his response to a question from the SDLP Leader in the House of Commons.

Speaking from Westminster last week, Ms Ritchie said, “The SDLP very much welcome the chancellor’s pledge that the banks’ business growth fund will have a presence in the North.

“The £1.2bn ‘contribution to society’ pot will assist communities, aid economic growth and will be a great boost to small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) in our region, many of whom are currently under severe pressure and are enduring great hardship.

“The SDLP said in our document ‘Partnership and Economic Recovery’ that it was vital for government to improve the effectiveness of financial support being provided to SMEs in order to benefit the long term health of our economy and we will continue to fight to ensure that this becomes a reality,” she added.