SIMON Hamilton, Strangford MLA (DUP) was the keynote speaker at the launch of the Northern Ireland Science Park’s Knowledge Economy Index report last week.
The report which was launched in the Glasshouse at Stormont revealed an increase in the number of knowledge economy jobs, businesses and wages in Northern Ireland in 2012.
Speaking at the report launch, Simon Hamilton, Assembly Private Secretary to the Minister of Finance, said, “The Northern Ireland Executive is clearly committed to growing the size of the knowledge economy inNorthern Ireland. The Economic Strategy includes key innovation and research and development targets such as supporting £300m investment in R&D, with at least 20% from SMEs, supporting 500 businesses to undertake R&D for the first time and secure 120 Collaborative Projects in R&D and supporting our Universities to establish 8 spin-out companies by 2013.
“This proposes to build upon existing successes like supporting an unprecedented 52% rise in total R&D expenditure since 2008, rising to £521m which is the highest figure on record and establishing a Creative Industries Innovation Fund which has made awards to date totalling £3.7m to 134 business projects and 22 sectoral body projects.
“If we are to grow our economy and compete in an increasingly competitive global context, then it is imperative that we build that growth on the foundation of knowledge based businesses. Businesses based in Northern Ireland that create and innovate tend to be highly productive and employ highly skilled people on higher than average wages. Without a strong knowledge economy sector, it is difficult to see how we can develop the strong economy we need in Northern Ireland.”
Mr Hamilton added: “It is encouraging to learn from the 2012 Knowledge Economy Index Report produced by the Northern Ireland Science Park that despite being in the midst of difficult economic times, jobs, start ups and wages in the knowledge economy sector in Northern Ireland have increased. This shows just how critical it is that we expand this sector given its ability to buck the broader trend. We still have some considerable distance travel compared to other regions. Knowledge economy sector represent 4.6% of total employment here, compared to 6.1% in all other UK regions. One impediment is early stage seed capital for new knowledge economy businesses. The Executive recently established growth loan and equity capital funds for local businesses and this is another area of financing we need to look at closely.
“Some people say that Northern Ireland is too small to succeed compared to other successful knowledge economies like San Diego. But they forget our past. 100 years ago, where the Northern Ireland Science Parkis now located, we built the biggest ship the world had ever seen. Down the road, in Shorts, we built aircraft that won a war. The electric defibrillator, the pneumatic tyre, the ejector seat, were all invented and made here. Recent big business wins for Bombardier and Montupet in the manufacturing sector show that sustained investment in research and development does pay off.
“We need to build upon that inherent spirit of innovation. Innovation is in our DNA and we just need to tap into it,” said Mr Hamilton.