Posted on Wednesday 16 November 2011 by Ulster Business

Could Northern Ireland become a leading knowledge economy

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster, Steve Orr, Director of NISP Connect, Employment and Learning Minister Dr Stephen Farry, and Gerry Mallon, CEO Northern Bank at the launch of the NI Knowledge Economy Index at Stormont Castle, Belfast. The report, which uses indicators from the Global Connect programme, provides an assessment of Northern Ireland as a knowledge based economy.

Northern Ireland could gain an extra 25,500 jobs across 6,000 new technology businesses if it can be transformed into the UK’s leading knowledge economy.

That was one of the key conclusions of a new report commissioned by the Northern Ireland Science Park and sponsored by the Northern Bank.

The Northern Ireland Knowledge Economy Index – Baseline Report also found that an additional 24,000 indirect jobs would be created through a focus on innovative businesses, generating an extra £3bn of Gross Value Added to the local economy.

For this to happen Northern Ireland will require a significant lift in levels of innovation, talent, technology, enterprise and active networks, the research found.
Using a definition of a “knowledge economy” that is based on the CONNECT model credited with transforming the San Diego economy, the report concluded that the current knowledge economy in Northern Ireland employs 30,000 people directly, encompasses 2,000 businesses, accounts for £1.8bn in GVA, £1bn in direct wages, supports 27,000 other jobs indirectly and £300m of business R&D expenditure.

The report indicates that transforming the local economy to the most knowledge intensive region in the UK will require some serious work, including £800m more spent on R&D annually, 200 more PhD students a year, 42,000 more science and technology graduates working in the economy, and 200 more patent applications annually.

NISP CONNECT director Steve Orr said the ambitious plan was “not just about creating jobs for a few people in white coats” but rather an engine that could become the source of a wide range of employment opportunities.

“This report is a starting point to tell us exactly where we are in the development of an entrepreneurial knowledge economy. Clearly while we are making progress in some areas we are not there yet on a number of key metrics,” he said.

“This Index Report sets out the challenges and confirms the desire of the private sector to engage with and support the public policy agenda to deliver a step change in our economic ambitions. We are using this as a rallying call to all interested parties to work together to deliver the clear and realistic opportunities outlined in this report.”

At its launch Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster welcomed the report as a “strong statement” from the business community that it is prepared to step forward, and implied that many of the issues included in the report would be addressed in the Executive’s soon to be released economic strategy – which she said will have innovation at its heart.

The Minister also praised the report’s conclusion that Northern Ireland should have ambitions to be the foremost knowledge in the UK, noting that the province has in the past “lacked belief” in its own potential.

Neil Gibson from Oxford Economics, which put together the research, said that while many indicators showed Northern Ireland lagging the UK, the province is “not cut adrift” and “the solution to our problems are in our own hands”.

However, a solution will require a collaborative approach between government and business that has been lacking to date. The report said that while innovation has long been talked about in Government policy the approach to it has been somewhat “blurred” and as a result Northern Ireland’s knowledge economy base is still “stunted”.

“It is customary in Northern Ireland for economic policy to aspire to the average, to move off the bottom, but as San Diego showed aiming for the top is not misguided, just demandingly ambitious,” the report said.

“The entrepreneurial knowledge economy will be the most difficult to achieve but the most rewarding. The prize is thousands of high value jobs, thousands of new jobs in support industries, clusters of companies embedded here and not interested in relocating, corporation tax paid by indigenous companies, capital gains tax paid on executive and employee stock options and wealth realistion events such as IPOs and company trade sales and most importantly, an opportunity for any kid with ambition and talent to make it big in Northern Ireland,” it concluded.

The report identified a number of weaknesses such as the lack of access to capital most local entrepreneurs are faced with, but also suggested many reasons to be hopeful.

However, with global competition moving quickly, it also urged Northern Ireland to act now if it is to get ahead of the game.


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