The Director of Economic Development provided the Committee with an update on activity which had taken place to support the development of new and existing businesses across the city through the Enterprise and Business Growth Team.
He pointed out that the activities which had taken place in 2021/22 had been developed in partnership with a range of organisations which included Invest NI, Catalyse and Local Enterprise Agencies and highlighted the following areas of activity:
· Enterprise awareness activity: engaged 760 individuals through a range of activities. Some specialist support work undertaken with female entrepreneurs and student start-ups;
· Start a business activity: 279 new jobs created through the Go for It support, with 75 businesses receiving additional follow-on mentoring and financial support;
· Support for Social Enterprise and Co-operatives: 56 organisations had been supported with one-to-one mentoring, advice and guidance, including six new co-operatives;
· Business growth supports: 327 businesses had engaged in a range of business support workshops and 357 had been supported through one-to-one engagement to help them to implement growth strategies and become more resilient;
· Innovation Factory: was at 70% occupancy, the operator had ambitious plans to increase those numbers in 2022/23. The centre had seen a high level of interest from new firms in sectors including TV/film, digital, engineering and green tech. Over the previous year, 84 businesses had engaged in masterclasses at the centre and, as part of their social and economic regeneration activity, over 30 work placements had been facilitated by IF customers over recent months, a series of school engagement activities had taken place and 10 local people had been trained as Digital Champions;
· Scaling and growth: in partnership with Catalyst and Invest NI, the Way to Scale programme supported 60 individuals toparticipate on a series of bootcamps to transform their businesses and support them to scale and grow to turnover of more than £3million. 10 were supported to participate in a one week residential at MIT and access a peer-to-peer workshop series with Catalyst and a Go to Market residential in Boston which focused on go to market strategies and tactics;
· City Vibrancy: In January 2002, the Vibrant Business Destinations programme had been launched, in partnership with DfC. To date, there had been 17 enquiries in relation to the programme and officers had been engaging with businesses to support them with the expression of interest process; and
· Investment had been undertaken in technology solutions to enable tracking of the impact of investment and carry out regular evaluations of programmes in order to measure their effectiveness. A bi-annual Belfast Business Survey had been relaunched, in conjunction with Belfast Chamber and responses from over 400 businesses were being analysed, the insights of which, would be shared with partners to build a collective understanding of the needs of businesses in the city and agree on priority interventions to address those needs.
He reported that work had been underway to develop an Economic Strategy to support sustainable and inclusive growth in Belfast from 2022 to 2030 and that it would clearly articulate the role of Belfast in the regional economy and would identify a series of key propositions to build on areas of competitive advantage in a rapidly changing global business context. He added that it would align with the ambitions of the 10X Economic Vision, as it would focus on how the return on investment could be maximised to secure transformational change that can benefit all residents.
The Director of Economic Development outlined to the Members, the proposed activity for 2022/23 and that there would be a focus on a number of new areas of programme development and delivery, which included:
· Starting a Business: Working with the other councils across the region, Invest NI and DfE to bring forward plans to revamp the approach to business start-up post-2023;
· Social Enterprise and Co-operative Development: In 2022/23, to refresh the social economy action plan based on ongoing research that had been taking place with the sector;
· Growing a Business: Responding to both the opportunities and challenges generated as a result of climate change, close engagement would be undertaken with the Climate and Waste teams, in order to identify opportunities to help businesses to become more environmentally sustainable;
· Support to Scale and Grow: Working with the City Innovation team to pilot interventions in order to access future opportunities through Challenge Funds, particularly for those businesses in growth sectors; and
· Investing in Belfast: Focus would be on refreshing the City Investment Service to ensure that it provides the right support to new and potential investors in the city and complement the work of partners such as Innovation City Belfast.
He reported that, in June each year, over the past decade, the New York New Belfast Conference had taken place which showcased the best of Belfast business, education, tourism and cultural offer to a wide audience of New York and US influencers and decision makers, and that, in 2022, the event would take place on 23rd and 24th June.
He stated that it had been expected that the event would attract up to 150 US based delegates and would be hosted by the Mayor of New York City, Mr. Eric Adams and that there would be a series of presentations from Belfast based business organisations, with a number of side meetings with relevant political and business representatives.
He reported that an invitation had been received for the Lord Mayor to co-host the event and that, given the significant progress in the city since the last New York New Belfast in-person events, it had been proposed that the Council agrees to the attendance of the Lord Mayor, Chief Executive and the Director of Economic Development, or their nominees, in order to articulate the focused investment narrative.
· Noted the Council’s performance and contribution to delivering against Belfast Agenda ambitions to grow the Belfast economy, which had focussed on the support for Business Start-up and Growth;
· Noted the ongoing work on the Belfast Economic Strategy and agreed to receive future updates on this work in the new electoral term;
· Noted and agreed the priority work areas for the 2022/23 financial year; and
· Agreed attendance by the Lord Mayor, Chief Executive and Director of Economic Development, or their nominees, at the New York New Belfast Conference in June 2022 and approved the associated budget allocation of £6,000 from existing resources.