Foster’s US meeting with Caterpillar chief

The F.G. Wilson factory in Larne. INLT 38-302-PR
The F.G. Wilson factory in Larne. INLT 38-302-PR

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster has met with Bill Rohner, vice-president of Caterpillar’s Electric Power Division, to discuss the way ahead following the company’s recent redundancy announcement at FG Wilson.

The Minister, who was accompanied at the Chicago meeting by Invest NI chief executive Alastair Hamilton and Assembly private secretary Alastair Ross, DUP MLA for East Antrim, said the meeting had been useful.

Caterpillar caused shockwaves in the east Antrim economy two weeks ago when the US conglomerate revealed it is to shed nearly 800 jobs by the end of the year at its plants in Larne, Monkstown and Springvale, Belfast. The decision has also been taken to transfer production of small generator sets to China by early 2014, with the potential for a further 250 job losses here.

Mrs Foster used a scheduled trip to the US to make representations at the highest level in Caterpillar. She said: “I felt it was important to meet with Bill Rohner while I was in the US to discuss the company’s recent decision in more detail and to identify any opportunities to mitigate job losses.

“Invest Northern Ireland has been working with management to build its capability to focus on higher added-value activities and identify and exploit new business opportunities.”

The minster said she and Mr Hamilton informed Mr Rohner of Government support available in a number of areas, including research and development and training. “We also wanted to identify if there are other functions within the group’s global operations which could competitively be serviced from a Northern Ireland base,” she added.

“Potential options were discussed, and Invest NI will continue to work closely with Caterpillar to explore them,” Mrs Foster stated.

As reported last week, Invest NI relocated its board meeting to LEDCOM in Larne and said afterwards that it had a “very constructive” meeting with a broad range of stakeholders including public representatives from Larne, Newtownabbey, Carrickfergus and Belfast councils, the local enterprise agencies and FE colleges.

In a statement issued to the Larne Times, the government agency said that Mr Hamilton and chairman Mark Ennis “outlined some of the actions being taken to try to mitigate job losses, including seeing if there are other functions within the Caterpillar group which could possibly transfer to Northern Ireland, supporting the company to invest in key areas such as research and development and training, and seeing if there are other companies in our customer base which may currently be recruiting individuals with similar skills”.

The statement continued: “Naturally, much of the immediate concerns expressed were in relation to the employees who will be directly affected and the Department for Employment and Learning outlined the range of support which will be put in place for employees. These will include a redundancy advice service in partnership with the Social Security Agency, further education colleges, HMRC and other relevant agencies to provide information and professional advice about the options and support available to them, including benefits, employment, training and education opportunities, as well as careers and taxation advice.”

The redundancy advice service is to arrange a series of initial group sessions, followed by more detailed and personalised one-to-one sessions, aimed at helping individuals to identify transferable skills, or areas where retraining or upskilling may be appropriate.

Invest NI said it has also been working with local FG Wilson management to focus on the Enterprise Minister’s aspiration to focus on “higher added-value activities and identify and exploit new business opportunities”, adding that a further meeting was planned for this week.