Posted on Thursday 2 January 2020 by Ulster Business


It was another year shaped by political turmoil and the loss of some giants of industry, but it was also a period which saw great opportunity and growth. John Mulgrew examines some of those stories making the headlines in 2019

Retail giant Primark said its new Belfast store had a strong first month of trading since opening. A fire at the historic Bank Buildings on Royal Avenue, which housed Primark’s flagship Belfast store, started on August 28 in 2018 and burned for three days. Millions was lost in trade to neighbouring businesses after a large cordon was erected around the building, in the heart of Belfast city centre.

Tech firm Kainos announced it will take on a proposed office scheme in Belfast for its new headquarters. The firm, which has 12 global offices but currently has its base off University Street, is taking on the planned office building at the site of the Dublin Road Movie House cinema.

Two major regionally significant schemes were given the go-ahead by Stormont. That included Translink’s £208m Belfast Transport Hub. The proposed development is set to replace the Europa Bus Centre and Great Victoria Street train station complex. Belfast Power’s £300m gas-fired power plant was also given the green light. The company wants to built the huge plant at Belfast Harbour, which could produce up to half of Northern Ireland’s electricity at peak times.

Northern Ireland’s leading small and medium-sized businesses saw a 8.5% surge in sales, according to the Ulster Business Next 200 list. Turnover growth surged among the businesses, adding up to £8.3bn across the 200, with this list of companies increasing turnover by 8.5%, year-on-year.

Bombardier’s Belfast base is put up for sale. The Canadian-owned firm is selling off its entire aerostructures business, which also includes a major operation in Morocco. Since then it was revealed US-based Spirit AeroSystems is buying the operations in a deal worth around $1.1bn (£880m).

Northern Ireland’s newest trade body alliance announces it will take its message to Westminster amid the ongoing political vacuum at home and with Brexit on the horizon. Trade NI is an alliance between Hospitality Ulster, headed by Colin Neill, Manufacturing NI, Stephen Kelly, and Retail NI, Glyn Roberts, and aims to represent a wider swathe of Northern Ireland’s private sector amid the “paralysis” surrounding a lack of Northern Ireland Executive and therefore a lack of local political voice on the UK’s exit from the EU.

The world’s biggest golfing event, The Open, brought tens of thousands to Royal Portrush. It was estimated that over the summer it helped generate more than £100m of economic benefit for Northern Ireland, according to a study commissioned by The R&A.

Northern Ireland’s largest businesses saw sales rise by 9.4% to more £24.8bn, according to the Ulster Business Top 100 Northern Ireland Companies list for 2019, with A&L Goodbody. And poultry giant Moy Park has also retained the top spot on the list for the eighth year running, posting sales of more than £1.5bn. Meanwhile, Belfast shipyard Harland & Wolff officially entered administration. However, the firm was saved. New owner InfraStrata plc took possession of the business and reopened.

Around 1,400 Wrightbus workers are made redundant after the company entered administration. The company was later sold to entrepreneur Jo Bamford, owner of Bamford Bus Company, which is actively recruiting workers. It has since delivered its first buses under the new ownership. The first 36 units of a 55 bus order were delivered to First Group for use in Leeds, in a deal worth around £13m.

A former global life sciences executive is named as the new head of economic development agency Invest NI. Kevin Holland is an experienced global business leader with more than 25 years international experience. He’s taking over from Alastair Hamilton as chief executive, after 10 years in the role.

Professional services giant PwC reveals it is creating 600 new jobs. The company announced the new roles alongside the Department for the Economy, through its Assured Skills Academy training places. The department has worked with PwC, Belfast Met and Ulster University to develop a £4.4m pre-employment training project to upskill individuals for the new jobs.

The election we weren’t expecting, and the first Christmas General Election to take place in almost a century during one of the most turbulent periods in UK politics, and in a period shaped by Brexit.


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