A vision for the establishment of an ‘integrated industry, inspiration and innovation campus (i4C)’ on the former St Patrick’s Barracks site in Ballymena has been discussed.
The discussion came amid the development of recommendations to reinvigorate manufacturing in Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.
A ‘Manufacturing Taskforce’ was formed by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council with the aim of reinvigorating the sector in the area following the economic loss of Michelin, JTI Gallagher and others in recent years.
Since the first Taskforce workshop in April, sub-groups are looking at increasing productivity, improving skills; support for Small & Medium Enterprises (SMEs); boosting the supply chain and encouraging collaborative research and development funding applications.
At the inaugural meeting of the Taskforce’s Steering Group, the portfolio of recommendations proposed at the meeting were unanimously supported and steering group members agreed to pursue the ideas and strategies put forward to date.
There were some short-term recommendations, such as the setting up of a HR manager’s forum and a local Buyers and Suppliers network that the teams can start working on now.
Some of the longer-term recommendations are being integrated into the Council’s Greater Belfast Region City Deal proposals, such as the vision for the establishment of an integrated industry, inspiration and innovation Campus (i4C) on the St Patrick’s Barracks regeneration site in Mid and East Antrim.
Rose Mary Stalker, Chair of the Manufacturing Taskforce, said: “I continue to be impressed with the level of engagement throughout the Borough (and beyond). I am excited by the potential of the ideas that have come out of this work, through collaboratively building up capabilities we can unlock the potential in our communities and seize the incredible opportunities offered by the digital revolution taking place in manufacturing today.
“The manufacturing sector lies at the heart of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council and we are determined to make sure it achieves its full potential. That is why the Manufacturing Taskforce was formed and the meeting of the steering group was an important step on that journey.
“There are ambitious plans for the Borough and with these in place, we will be able to support indigenous manufacturing businesses and encourage inward investment in the coming years.”
Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Councillor Lindsay Millar, said: “It is encouraging to see how much positivity and enthusiasm there is within the Manufacturing Taskforce and I applaud the Council for taking the initiative to proceed with this initiative.
“I am confident that the Manufacturing Taskforce will ensure a contribution not just to the local economy, but also to the wider economy across Northern Ireland.”
Anne Donaghy, Chief Executive of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, said: “It is vital that we use the expertise and skills of the companies and talent in this area to help deliver change and further economic growth.”
Mark McClure, Caterpillar Northern Ireland Operations Director, said: “From education and business resources to the different private sector companies involved, it is fantastic to see the collaboration amongst the different institutions involved in the Council’s Manufacturing Taskforce.
“The Taskforce is striving to ensure we think about our young people as they come into adulthood not only for the manufacturing sector but also for wider society.”
Stephen Kelly, Chief Executive of Manufacturing NI, said: “The most important thing is that the Manufacturing Taskforce hasn’t sat around and waited for things to happen. Those involved are getting things done now, with actions for the short term, medium term, as well as having ambitious plans for the long term.
“This isn’t about navel-gazing or looking for what is best practice, hoping that ideas are just going to spring out. The Manufacturing Taskforce are taking their collective energy and taking action now. That’s the most impressive thing.”