Invest NI’s International Business Team were in Fermanagh for three days this week, getting to know the area and meeting Fermanagh District Council to “get behind the specifics of what Fermanagh can offer.” “We are intrigued and look forward to hearing about what the Council has to tell us,” says Barry McBride, Executive Director of International Business at Invest NI.

The internal staff conference is held in a different Northern Ireland location each year, allowing the 54 team members – many of whom are not from the province – an opportunity to properly get to know the area they are trying to sell to investors.

“Fermanagh was an obvious choice this year given that the the world leaders were here last year, the G8 was a highlight in all of our calendars and it’s very good and very fitting that our overseas team gets to see that area,” Mr. McBride explains.

The International Business Team has 12 overseas offices: America – San Fransisco, Boston and New York; Europe – London, Dublin, Brussels and Düsseldorf; and India, Middle East and Africa – Dubai, Jeddah, Bangalore, Mumbai and Erbil (in northern Iraq). They also have one person based in Chicago and one person based in Miami (which is being used as a “jump-off point” for Latin-America).

While in Fermanagh, the 54 team members met Webtech NI, BT, Liberty Insurance and South West College. The Council also introduced them to Elite Electronics, Fisher Engineering and Belleek Pottery as well as other ‘stakeholders’ such as local councillors and other local business people.

Invest NI is often accused of not bringing potential investors to Fermanagh. “That is not correct,” Mr. McBride tells The Impartial Reporter. “We have had a number of visits in Fermanagh in the last 12 months but the detail of these visits are commercially sensitive and we will keep it that way.” He adds: “Could we do more? Absolutely yes, but it’s not fair to say that we haven’t done anything.” Invest NI “has been involved in promoting” over 800 jobs in Fermanagh over the last five years, Mr. McBride continues.

“Those 800 jobs have been supported by £45 million of investment to the region. Invest NI has offered £8.5 million assistance to support those projects,” he states.

When pressed on the ambiguity between 800 jobs ‘promoted’ rather than ‘created’, an Invest NI spokeswoman said: “The term ‘jobs created’ will be available in the future but it’s not available at this stage.” The Programme for Government stipulates that Invest NI must ‘promote’ 25,000 new jobs, therefore “that’s the way we report it.” Mr. McBride sees entrepreneurship as a strong area of Fermanagh’s economy. “We’ve had over 600 business start support in the last five years,” he points out.

He has “an open mind” about Fermanagh’s economy. “Personally I’ve been to Fermanagh and Enniskillen many, many times. I have a very good opinion of Fermanagh but it’s critical that we listen to what the local people tell us is important about the area,” he comments. “One of the key meetings is with the local Council. We have our eyes and ears open, and will listen to the local stakeholders’ point of view as to what is unique about Fermanagh.” At a pre-G8 economic conference in Enniskillen last year, Director of the Northern Ireland Centre for Economic Policy, Professor Neil Gibson said that he has seen too many investment brochures trying to entice investors to a particular area of Northern Ireland that don’t include a ‘package’ detailing lifestyle, health, education, property prices and entertainment in the area.

Mr. McBride responds: “We are working with the old Councils and the new emerging Councils. We absolutely believe that the stakeholders and Councils in each region should understand their own proposition. Should each one have their own brochure? No.” He continues: “If you have six brochures for each county or 11 brochures for each RPA region, as soon as you print it, it’s going to be out of date. Each investor team wants a tailored, bespoke outline of what’s relevant to their business area.” He points to the Invest NI app launched last February that can be adapted by local councils to promote their own area and contains information for investors including details on infrastructure, people and skills, and cost of living.

“The app is trying to get councils to really think: ‘What is our unique selling point that differentiates us from different places?’” He concludes: “I do agree with what Professor Neil Gibson is saying, not so much on the investment brochure, but on the thought process about what are the attractors and the unique points in the area. There is more to be done in this area and that’s one of the things we will be discussing with Fermanagh District Council when we are here.”