Mid Ulster, the most entrepreneurial region in Northern Ireland for business starts, has launched a new £30M economic development strategy, with ministerial endorsement.
Both the Finance Minister, Arlene Foster, and deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, attended the launch at Stormont of the 5 year plan from Mid Ulster District Council, which will create and sustain 3,000 jobs, support 1,500 businesses and provide employment and training opportunities for 4,000 people.
Mid Ulster has almost 8,000 VAT registered businesses, the most outside of Belfast, and approximately 230 business starts each year, and the Council will focus on enabling economic growth in the region’s strong, established business base, which includes manufacturing, engineering, construction and retail, as well as exploring the potential for growth in areas such as agri-food, business services and high value added industries.
The significance of infrastructure, from the need to address under-developed road linkages to the lack of a land and property bank to facilitate indigenous growth as well as inward investment, is also highlighted in the strategy’s actions, while the ‘not spots’ of mobile and broadband coverage are accorded priority status.
Recognition is also given to the requirement for a high-performing, skilled current and future workforce and the new plan sets out a range of measures to address Mid Ulster’s skills gaps, recognising the importance of early years’ provision through to school, college and on the job training.
The final strand of the Council’s proposals centres on the regeneration and sustainability of a myriad of towns and villages stretching from as far as Aughnacloy and Fivemiletown to Maghera and Upperlands.
Speaking at the event, Chair of the Council, Councillor Linda Dillon, said:
“Mid Ulster is a region which traditionally has not benefited as a location for public sector jobs or for foreign direct investment. The result has been a people who have had to help themselves economically, and that is why this region has become so enterprising.
“The Cookstown, Dungannon and Magherafelt areas are home to some world class companies who are global leaders in their fields, major exporters and who continue to operate competitively in international markets.
“Launching our new strategy in Stormont is making a statement about our position in, and significant contribution to, the country’s economy”.
Commenting on the work to implement the strategy, Councillor Frances Burton, Chair of the Council’s Development Committee, said:
“This plan has its roots in an extensive consultation programme with local businesses.
“Having worked with them to identify our key actions, we must now turn our attention to delivering the funding schemes and the sectoral support programmes which will make an impact on the economic sustainability and growth of Mid Ulster, as well as to ensuring that we are fulfilling our role in lobbying and providing a voice for industry on the broader economic stage”.
The Finance Minister Arlene Foster said: "Economic development is at the heart of the Northern Ireland Executive’s work and our number one priority is to grow our economy and create jobs.
“I welcome the new Mid Ulster Economic Development Plan which is both innovative and ambitious and delivers a clear message that Mid Ulster is most definitely ‘open for business.
“The new Mid Ulster District Council now has an unprecedented potential to develop opportunities for growth in higher value added sectors and the potential for export growth principally in agri-food, manufacturing and construction.
“I am confident that Mid Ulster will continue to play a vital role as central and local government continue to work together to sustain economic growth and increase wealth and prosperity for everyone in Northern Ireland.”
The deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: “I welcome this report and trust the findings will provide useful information that will help inform and shape future policy, benefiting the people of Mid Ulster for generations.
“This report is timely as it clearly identifies and addresses opportunities arising from representing new people, new places and delivering new administrative powers.
“As the fastest growing population of the new Councils the challenges will only get greater but with hard work, and a plan which everyone works towards we will be much better placed to meet them head on and maximise the impact and effectiveness of resources.
“We stand ready to support both the Mid Ulster District Council and everyone who lives in the area.”
Details of the new Economic Development Plan are available by clicking here.