Posted on Tuesday 19 June 2012 by Ulster Business

Interview

Mark Nodder, the new President of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, talks to Ulster Business about the Chamber’s ongoing focus on helping local firms to export successfully around the world

What will be your priorities during your term as president?

Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce has a three year strategic business plan in place. This plan sets out ambitious goals to double membership, increase member satisfaction and deliver initiatives that support the growth of the private sector in Northern Ireland. The Executive Team led by the Chamber Chief Executive Ann McGregor are on target to deliver the Chamber’s ambitious business targets. As President I will seek to influence Government policy on behalf of our 1,000 members in order to create the conditions for business growth.

The Chamber will continue to be a strong voice on behalf of key industry sectors that offer the greatest growth potential in areas such as exports, innovation, skills and employment. I am particularly keen to support initiatives that grow businesses, especially SMEs and will be launching a new intiative to complement Export First, the Chamber’s initiative to increase export. I will also continue the campaign for the reduction of corporation tax which is essential for rebalcancing the Northern ireland economy.

How does your own experience fit with what the Chamber is trying to achieve?

I have a broad range of experience in the private sector internationally and in Northern Ireland. I am a lawyer by training and worked initially for the National Audit Office before moving to Saudi Arabia to take up a position with the Ministry of Defence and Aviation. I relocated to Northern Ireland in 1986 and worked for Bombardier and Survitec prior to joining Wrightbus in 1998. I have been the Group Managing Director for The Wright Group of companies, which includes Wrightbus Ltd, Wright Customcare Ltd, Wright Composites Ltd and Metallix Ltd subsidiaries since 2006.

Outside Wrightbus, as well as being the Vice-President of Northern Ireland Chamber ofCommerce for two years, I have been a member of the Economic Advisory Group to the Northern Ireland Economy Minister. All of this experience fits well with the Chamber’s goals to grow the private sector.

The Chamber encourages Government to create conditions for business growth - what barriers if removed would be most helpful to NI companies?

We need the UK Government to honour its often repeated promise to set business free from the bureaucracy that stifles and hinders the enterprise and innovation so desperately needed to create wealth and jobs. This is crucially important because business in the UK has still to grapple with more bureaucratic red tape than in most other nations. Bureaucracy is quite simply making it tough for business to drive economic growth.

Many of the initiatives taken by the Government to assist innovation through, for instance, R&D credits are still over complicated. Whilst there have been significant improvements in planning there is still more to do. Access to finance particularly for projects with an element of risk is a major challenge. The cost of doing business in Northern Ireland is higher than average and employers still face skills issues, not just at the high end but also in basic skills.

Corporation tax would obviously be a game changer, but what should Plan B involve if Northern Ireland doesn’t get it?

I am convinced that a reduced rate of Corporation Tax is essential; it would undoubtedly bring major benefits to the Northern Ireland economy. Given the expected boost to employment levels, not just with Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) but with local business, the measure could substantially increase living standards across Northern Ireland. Also, with a lower rate of corporation tax, the economy should achieve the necessary rebalancing toward greater private sector activity, with increased productivity levels and export-led growth.

There is no plan B that will have this impact however I am encouraged by the participation in the Chamber’s events and support initiatives such as Export First and the performance of Invest NI’s Business Boost Initiative, the Jobs Fund and the R&D support available.

Your day job is with a company focused on exports, do you see an ongoing role for the Chamber promoting and educating local firms about exporting?

The Chamber, you will all be aware, has an extensive and successful export programme, Export First, which I will seek to expand during my Presidency.

I share the commitment articulated most recently by First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness to do whatever is needed to promote sales in global markets including the so-called BRIC nations – Brazil, Russia, India and China. I welcome their focus on exporting as the best, perhaps, the only route to economic recovery for Northern Ireland. The Chamber is ready and able to help more companies to grasp the opportunities that exist in BRIC nations and indeed many other more established markets such as the US and Europe, where there’s still good business to be done.

To date Export First has supported over 180 participants in their export journey. We will look to the Executive to continue to work with us in measures that will lead to a substantial increase in export sales. This means making it easier for companies, especially the SMEs, to do business, both in Northern Ireland and overseas.

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