A CENTRE which is home to pioneering companies operating throughout the world has been hailed as the first step towards the creation of a Northern Ireland innovation district.
The Innovation Centre at Ecos was officially launched in Ballymena by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, in partnership with Catalyst.
The facility offers 20,000 square feet of digitally-enabled Grade A office space and has already attracted 94 knowledge-economy jobs of the 125 posts initially targeted by 2022.
Tenants include PlotBox, which has digitally transformed the mapping of cemeteries in America, Europe and the Middle East, and Clarke Facades, a firm which designs, fabricates and installs major construction projects across the UK and Ireland.
Mid and East Antrim Borough Council invested £1.7million in the project in order to redevelop the existing building into an innovation hub supporting local businesses with high-growth potential.
It is also an ideal venue for conferences and social enterprises, such as Usel, which has just taken over the catering facilities on site.
More than 100 attendees at the official launch were told the project was phase one of a wider vision to create an innovation district in Ballymena which would form part of a borough-wide innovation ecosystem to drive economic growth.
Chief Executive of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, Anne Donaghy, said: “Council made a multi-million pound investment to make the Ecos building into an Innovation Hub in order to create 125 knowledge-economy jobs.
“We have been overwhelmed by the level of knowledge-economy companies that have based themselves here in the heart of Mid and East Antrim.
“They trade not only across the UK but worldwide, including Plotbox, and Clarke Facades.
“Our elected members made this investment after working closely with Catalyst to grow new digital and innovation sectors in our borough.
“A £26m City Deal investment will develop Phase 2 of Grade A office space as we work to regenerate the St Patrick’s Barracks site in the town to establish an innovation district.
“On behalf of Council I want to thank all our partners who have helped us realise this vision and continue to work with us in delivering the next phase, which will create an additional 463 jobs in this sector.”
Andy McDonald, Business Development Manager at Catalyst, said: “We are absolutely delighted with the progress gained to date with the Ecos redevelopment project.
“Securing high-growth, technology-focussed companies with over 30% growth per year and providing them with an environment to succeed has been key to the continued success of this project.
“We are excited to introduce a dedicated co-working suite to the Innovation Centre at Ecos in early 2020 which will give early-stage companies the opportunity to access support programmes and grow and innovate together.”
Mid and East Antrim Borough Council and its partners have identified the digital innovation sector as crucial to plans to deliver significant future economic growth in the borough.
The Council is currently working with its partners on the delivery of a £26million i4C innovation centre at the former St Patrick’s Barracks site, which is adjacent to the existing Innovation Centre at Ecos.
The City Deal funded project will house a range of business incubation spaces, laboratory and maker space, digitally enabled Grade A office accommodation and a series of co-working and collaborative spaces hosting a number of innovation and enterprise programmes with a Northern Ireland-wide reach.
The innovation district will be SMART-enabled and integrate several new buildings planned for the former barracks site, including social housing, a leisure centre and civic centre buildings, as well as a Northern Regional College campus, delivering an economic boost for Ballymena of £150million.