09 January 2017
Economy Minister Simon Hamilton MLA has outlined the substantial strides forward in the Northern Ireland economy last year.
The Minister said: “The economy grew by 1.6% last year with, crucially, that growth driven by the private sector. Unemployment continued to fall and now stands at its lowest since before the economic crash. Our employment rate is at its highest ever and economic inactivity is at an historic low. Earnings rose by more than the rate of inflation for the second year running.
“Research & Development expenditure grew by an incredible 24% in the past year and now stands at an all time high of £750million. Exports by locally based businesses increased by the highest percentage of any UK region in the last year. And we welcomed the most external visitors to Northern Ireland in our history. This strong and sustained progress in our economic performance bodes well for 2017 and will assist us in dealing with whatever challenges and uncertainties the year ahead will bring.
“I want to maintain that forward momentum in our economy. In the next number of weeks, I hope to gain Executive agreement for our renewed and refocused Economic Strategy. This will set out our clear vision for the transformation of the local economy in the next decade and beyond. While we have made progress that we can be proud of, we absolutely must continue with the work of transforming our economy. That requires an ongoing focus on attracting inward investment, encouraging local firms to reach their high growth potential, expanding further our exports, increasing innovation and improving our skills base. Maintaining a pipeline of highly skilled workers is critical to winning investment and growing businesses. Time after time, what secures an investment from the US or Great Britain is our ability as an economy to provide companies with loyal, hard-working and exceptionally skilled staff. I will continue to work with our universities, our colleges and my colleague the Education Minister to ensure this competitive advantage is maintained.
“Thankfully, the generation entering employment today never experienced what Northern Ireland was like 30 or 40 years ago. Northern Ireland has made so much progress. However, during those dark years we lost too many of our best. It would be an incredible achievement if 2017 was to be the year when we see some of those who left our shores many years ago coming home with their vast experience and skills. However, for those who will not make the journey home for good, I want to further utilise our vast diaspora and ensure Northern Ireland’s international network is fully harnessed.
“I look forward to a year of continued growth and improvement across all aspects of our economy. 2017 will not be without challenges to our economy and I know it won't always be good news. But I believe that we can reflect on 2016 as a year when our economy moved forward and I hope that 2017 will see us make yet further progress in creating a globally competitive economy that works for everyone.”