ENTERPRISE Minister Arlene Foster urged Larne to look to the future with confidence, despite the setback of jobs losses at FG Wilson.
The announcement in September that 760 will go at the Caterpillar-owned generator firms plants in Larne, Monkstown and Belfast had been “devastating”, but the keynote speaker at the 2012 Larne Business Awards hosted by the Larne Times, stated her belief that the borough is well placed to take on the challenge of the emerging global markets.
Mrs Foster praised those shortlisted for awards, adding: “Your business success is even more impressive given the economic situation we find ourselves in.”
She referred to the global recession and the impact locally of the FG Wilson announcement, saying: “While there is no quick fix and no easy solution to the difficulties faced by those who have lost their jobs, and to their families and the local Larne community, my own Department and Invest Northern Ireland are working to ensure that those people affected get advice and support.
“We are also working with colleagues in the Executive and right across Government and particularly with those in the Department of Employment and Learning, who are offering a redundancy service; as well as the further education college and jobs agencies to provide as much information and advice as we possibly can.”
Mrs Foster recalled her meeting three weeks ago in Chicago with Bill Rohner, vice-president of Caterpillar’s electric power division. She and Invest NI chief executive Alistair Hamilton had discussed with Mr Rohner the FG Wilson situation in more detail and attempted to “identify any opportunities that there were to mitigate against the job losses”.
Mrs Foster added: “We have also been working with the local management here in Larne to try and focus on higher value-added activities and to encourage them to exploit new business opportunities.”
The DUP minister reflected: “The FG Wilson jobs losses are a reminder that rebuilding our economy is a long term journey, but I am very optimistic. We have set ourselves in the Programme For Government some very challenging targets, but I believe they are achievable.
“We are looking for the promotion of 25,000 new jobs in the next four years; we are looking for £1 billion investment in the economy and £375 million of that from direct foreign investment.”
The emerging economies in Brazil, India and China had been targeted as part of a drive to increase exports.
“Most of our activity will concentrate on building on those areas where we have existing capability - food, tourism, IT, financial services, construction and of course transport and aerospace - and Larne has a strong tradition in many of these sectors and is very well placed to exploit these emerging market opportunities,” urged Mrs Foster, who was aware that Larne Council has been working very closely with Invest Northern Ireland in a number of areas.
In addition, Invest NI’s north eastern regional office was providing interim business support for a number of firms and many people who want to start their own business.
“I am please that we are also working on 27 new projects here in the Larne district council area as a result of our Boosting Business Campaign,” said Mrs Foster, adding: “We are committed to helping the businesses in the Larne area to reach their full potential.
“Down the years we have offered companies here almost £25 million in assistance, which resulted in drawing down total investment in the region of £109 million.”
The DETI chief concluded with words of encouragement: “So whilst the recent news in Larne has been dominated by job losses, there is good reason to be positive about the future.”
The borough was well placed, having the Port of Larne and the gateway to the Causeway Coast and Glens. She made special mention of business support agency Ledcom.
“Most of all - and this something I say when I go outside of Northern Ireland - the one thing that is key for me is the fact that we have a hard-working, committed and talented but above all resilient workforce here in Northern Ireland and tonight is an opportunity to recognise our people and congratulate them.”