Larne business owners have been given a chance to share their views on the economy with Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster at special event in the town.
The Caterpillar NI site on Glenarm Road was the venue for a ‘Minister on the Move’ scheme, which allows businesses to engage directly with NI Assembly members. The initiative is initiative is spearheaded by NI Chamber of Commerce and Industry in partnership with British Airways and American Airlines.
The event included an address from Minister Foster, followed by an open forum where delegates shared their views and asked questions on what the Northern Ireland Executive is doing to help grow the private sector.
Praising the management team and workforce at Caterpillar, Minister Foster said: “The local workforce is now involved in diverse manufacturing activities as well as Caterpillar’s traditional generator business. This has only been possible as a result of the high standard of the facilities, processes and skills in Northern Ireland, as well as the creativity and commitment of the local management team.”
Robert Kennedy, Operations Director at Caterpillar NI added: “As a patron of the NI Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Caterpillar NI is very pleased to host this event, and to welcome the Minister to our Larne facility.
“Minister Foster has worked closely with us over the years to support our investments in the skills and capabilities of our people, as well as our local facilities, as we continue to develop our Northern Ireland sites as a Centre of Excellence within the Caterpillar group.
“This has helped us to bring significant new opportunities to our local facilities, including the manufacture of wheeled material handlers and the assembly of axles for articulated trucks. These have added to our core business, the manufacture of generator set products.”
Caterpillar’s traditional product portfolio has been generator sets, however it has diversified in recent years and has implemented a number of innovative projects.
Highlighting the importance of diversification, Mr Kennedy continued: “Our future, I believe, is in our ability to innovate and be creative, to be willing to diversify, to get outside of our comfort zone.
“Two years ago we were focused on volume. Now we are much more diversified, and more focused on higher value added to our customers. The assembly of axles for large Caterpillar trucks and loaders now employs more than 100 local people at our Larne facility.
“In terms of our Caterpillar Wheeled Material Handler operations, we recently shipped our first product, a 37 tonne unit, to Spain. A number of further machines are currently in production, destined for South America, and the development of much larger units, through to 60 tonne, is currently underway. Together, these programmes represent a $25m investment in Northern Ireland.”
Founded in 1966, Caterpillar NI is Europe’s largest diesel generating set manufacturer. The company houses 12 divisions across four sites in Northern Ireland and has global manufacturing facilities in Brazil, China, India and the USA.