Forget the perfect timing and capatlise on city of opportunity

By Kirsty McManus, National Director, Institute of Directors (IoD) Northern Ireland

There’s no doubt about it – being in business can be tough.

What I mean is, financial success does not come easily – or necessarily at the first attempt – but is the result of countless hours of hard work and a determination by those behind the organisation to prosper.

External conditions are also critical, both in terms of timing and geographical setting.

It is easy to think that the current climate under which businesses are operating mean that the timing right now makes it yet more difficult to grow or start a business and it is true there are some unavoidable clouds over head.

Take Brexit. Each time companies feel greater clarity is coming, it seems to slip away just as fast as it appeared. We are no closer to understanding what our future trading relationship with the European Union will be now than we were a year ago.

The immediate threat of a ‘no deal’ departure may have been removed by the extension of Brexit until the autumn, but this has been of little comfort to businesses with so much still up in the air.

The one response that must be avoided at all costs is complacency, on the part of both politicians and us as business leaders.

The cycle of indecision among politicians must be broken and there is no place for feeling that the pressure is now off. In fact, a sense of urgency should actually now increase as a solution is sought.

The same goes for those of us in the business community. The extension should be viewed as an opportunity to improve our preparedness for the UK’s eventual departure from the EU.

We have been working with our members since the moment the EU referendum was announced to help them lay the requisite groundwork and continue to do so with a range of resources available to aid the process.

Added to the mix for Northern Ireland firms, of course, is the impasse at Stormont, now ongoing for well over two years.

The opening of fresh cross-party talks in an effort to restore the Northern Ireland Executive was a welcome development.

A week since the current process commenced and it is far too early to make any predictions about the likely outcome.

We’ve been here before – several times. There’s no timetable to the talks or deadline by which a deal must be met, although we are promised a review of progress at the end of May.

Let’s not make this just another failed attempt.

Taken together, this double dose of Brexit and the lack of devolved government sounds the like the perfect storm for those trying to build businesses.

The timing may not seem ideal – but when is it ever exactly right?

The message from our members to politicians throughout this period has been one of resilience and defiance – an absolute determination to get on with the job in hand regardless of the obstacles that are placed in their way.

Local businesses continue to make significant investments as they expand and create new jobs for the Northern Ireland economy.

Senior civil servants have played their part also, ensuring the planning approval wheels continue to turn and there have been some significant advances in this regard in recent months such as the green lights given to the Belfast Power Station and the Belfast Transport Hub.

These projects along with others already in the pipeline mean that Belfast, rather than being shrouded under a cloud of uncertainty, can continue to thrive as a City of Opportunity.

Meanwhile, the Ulster University York Street Campus moves closer to completion and work is under way to deliver the Belfast City Region Deal.

Next month, we’ll be joining with key figures from Ulster University, Translink and Belfast City Council at a special event to hear about the progress of these projects and learn of some of the business opportunities they will present.

As ever, the business community is rolling its sleeves up and continuing to seek growth by benefiting from the City of Opportunity.

For the opportunities to be fully realised however, requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders. The Belfast City Region Deal, and a similar deal for Derry and Strabane rely on a functioning Northern Ireland Executive to make maximum impact.

The ancient Chinese proverb that suggests the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second-best time is today has resonance for businesses also.

Brexit and the political impasse are contemporary challenges (that must be overcome) but without them, other obstacles would exist. Let’s work together to capitalise on Belfast’s potential as the City of Opportunity today.

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