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Causeway & BITA Welcome Invest Northern Ireland as latest Dual Corporate Members

An interview with Barry Clarke, Invest Northern Ireland 

As the regional business development agency, Invest Northern Ireland's role is to grow the local economy, by helping new and existing businesses to compete internationally, and by attracting new investment to Northern Ireland. They work with local companies and investors offering business advice and financial assistance in order to develop and expand the business and to improve capability and international competitiveness. 

Great Britain and Ireland are primary markets for Northern Ireland products and services, especially from the construction, engineering, technology, life and health sciences and food and drink sectors. They are also a significant source of investment from large and small firms from the professional and financial services and technology sectors across the islands and increasingly the manufacturing sector in Ireland.

Barry Clarke is Head of International Business for Europe and Russia at Invest Northern Ireland. Originally from Newtownards, Northern Ireland, he has spent his entire working career in economic development and has headed teams for Invest NI in Mumbai, Dubai, Shanghai and now London, seeking investment and assisting Northern Ireland businesses to grow sales, as well as promoting Northern Ireland’s universities and colleges.

His current role in London involves one of Invest NI’s largest investments in recent years, the development of Hubs -  similar to Scotland House and Ireland House - in London, Dublin and Brussels – its primary aim is to make people and businesses more aware that Invest NI is market present and can help them with business solutions for supply chain or a location for international growth.  The Hubs will also provide hot desking and meeting/event spaces for Northern Ireland business and Invest Ni economic partners and stakeholders.

Explaining more on the benefits of Northern Ireland for trade and investment, Barry says: “Northern Ireland’s choice as a growth location for Great Britain and Irish businesses to support their international expansion plans is linked to the availability and competitiveness of talent; low operating costs, excellent communications infrastructure, and government support for the ongoing growth and development of skills. That is why over 70% of new investors reinvest there.

“Northern Ireland also has two world class universities and a network of further education colleges producing highly skilled graduates which along with a range of tailored and flexible government-funded support measures ensure that local and international businesses can access and develop the skills they need, both at set up and for future expansion. We’re passionate about celebrating and showcasing what makes Northern Ireland a great place to live, work, study, visit, invest and do business.”

Strengths of the Northern Ireland and Scotland relationship

In addition to having their own NI Connections network, which connects the Northern Irish diaspora around the world, Invest NI joined the Causeway: Scotland Ireland Business Exchange network as corporate members a few years ago, and very recently upgraded their membership to dual BITA (British and Irish Trading Alliance) corporate membership

Commenting on the commonalities and potential shared opportunities for the two nations, Barry says: 

“There’s a massive cultural alignment between Northern Ireland and Scotland and we have common economic histories, especially in manufacturing and engineering and for new and emerging industries. 

“Scotland also attracts thousands of Northern Ireland students annually and many of them, like my own son, have stayed there to work. There are many connections, but perhaps not enough pro-activity when it comes to linking businesses.  The strings are there, we just need to work harder to draw them together!”

The value in dual corporate membership of Causeway and BITA 

With Barry’s team based in London, in addition to having their GB Trade Director for Construction, Nick Turberville also based in the London office, they decided it was logical to upgrade their membership and become dual BITA members too to improve their intra-business linkages within the wider UK and Ireland to help businesses with access new opportunities. Explaining more about the benefits for Invest NI, Barry said: 

“London and the wider UK is an important market for Northern Ireland contractors and the supply chain. From both Causeway and BITA memberships, we hope to find mutually beneficial relationships that profit the members and provide new business growth and some marketing to boost our profile and presence. 

“I only joined the London team last November, but I did get along to a BITA event and the members were very welcoming and one of the reasons we upgraded our membership was that we need to be in networks like this in London and across the UK and Ireland to create opportunities for members to work together and improve the profile of Northern Ireland businesses.”

Brexit and Covid-19 implications for Northern Ireland 

Invest NI works across many sectors, so they encounter a variety of challenges, however none that they view are insurmountable without first trying to help their clients to become more competitive and providing better opportunities for market access and awareness. Commenting on the forthcoming UK exit from the European Union and what that may mean for Northern Ireland, Barry states: “It could present some unique and significant market access opportunities for Northern Ireland, that will interest new investors and create potential new business for indigenous companies, however for now, I think we do need to get better clarity on the current and ongoing negotiations.”


Looking beyond the pandemic to the ‘new norms’

Like for many people and organisations, the Covid-19 crisis has been an extremely busy and worrying time. For Invest NI, they are the primary economic development organisation in Northern Ireland so they have been at the frontline in developing solutions to keep their clients steady and as ready as they can be for the recovery phase. Barry adds: “As well as crisis management and supporting clients to stay in touch with customer and suppliers, we are looking beyond the pandemic to the new norms.  It’s been a tragic time for families and businesses and we are doing what we can to ease some of those challenges and readying our staff and clients for better times ahead.  On the bright side there’s been unbelievable innovation and collaboration during the crisis that’s not just for profit but also to save lives.”

For Barry himself, he has worked remotely for years, as has the organisation, so “working at home hasn’t been so difficult”. He adds; “I’m a bit of a free spirit, so I do sometimes feel trapped, but discipline in terms of where and when to work have been the secret and I’ve even lost some weight. Being thinner and fitter, and making better use of technology to stay in touch with colleagues, as well as lower phone bills, is the upside!”

For more information about Invest Northern Ireland, visit InvestNI.com

Interested in finding out more about dual Causeway and BITA corporate membership? Join us today! 

Author: Aoife O'Sullivan

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About The Author

Aoife O'Sullivan

Aoife O'Sullivan is Causeway's Events and Membership Engagement Manager. She is responsible for managing and nurturing the membership engagement activity for Causeway, primarily through hosting events in Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland.

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