Manufacturing Task Force sets strategic direction for manufacturing growth

Mid and East Antrim’s Manufacturing Task Force has agreed on a blueprint aimed at ensuring the borough has a prosperous future as the home of world-class advanced manufacturing and innovation firms.

At the body’s recent meeting, steering group members – including prominent private and public sector representatives – universally backed plans aimed at driving economic growth, enabling digital innovation, supporting entrepreneurship, creating jobs and boosting the industry.

This includes fully capitalising on major strategic investment opportunities through the Belfast Region City Deal, the area’s bid for a Heathrow Logistics Hub, discussions to locate a £60m Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre in Ballymena, and paving the way locally for major advancements through the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The Task Force is in the process of rejuvenating the local sector, which has been dealt a number of high-profile economic shocks, including the closures of Michelin and JTI Gallaher in Ballymena, and most recently, the entering into the administration of Wrightbus.

It previously challenged representatives from across 100 organisations to highlight the issues which needed to be addressed within the sector around productivity, skills, research and development, the supply chain and support to small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Now, the Task Force’s steering team is focusing on its next steps amid an ever-changing local economic landscape.

Acting Chair of the Task Force, Anne Donaghy, said the role of the body was more vital than ever in delivering on a series of ambitious plans to revitalise and revolutionise the manufacturing industry in Mid and East Antrim.

She said: “We are using the expertise and skills of more than 50 representatives from manufacturing companies, industry bodies and the public sector to help map the sector’s path to renewed success.

“This collaboration and strong partnership working were extremely clear following the recent Wrightbus announcement when public and private sector organisations across Northern Ireland rallied to support those affected.

“The levels of engagement across the different strands of the Task Force have been remarkable. Never before have so many institutions come together for the benefit of one another in this manner. It is crucial we maintain our momentum for the future.

“Manufacturing will continue to be an integral part of our borough. We have plans and funding secured for the development of a £26m innovation centre through the Belfast Region City Deal, and aspirations for a £60m Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre, in partnership with Queen’s University.

“As one of two shortlisted areas in Northern Ireland for a proposed Heathrow Logistics Hub site, this opportunity could potentially result in the creation of up to 5,000 jobs and regional investment of £5bn.

“As the industry enters into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it will be essential to integrate emerging digital technologies to help improve business flexibility and productivity.”

Initial developments to stem from the Manufacturing Task Force since its inception include:

  • Rapid Redundancy Response following Wrightbus announcement, including supporting 470 workers with a redundancy information session, and working closely with private and public sector partners to offer 2,400 live job vacancies to those affected;
  • Funding secured for a Collaborative Growth Programme to tackle skills issues in the sector;
  • The development of a local buy and supply portal, which will aim to shorten the supply chain for local manufacturing firms;
  • Funding proposal to develop a project on zero carbon emissions within the local area submitted;
  • Development and launch of an Assured Skills Academy in Supply Chain, Procurement & Logistics in conjunction with NRC
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