Down Business Centre Makes Presentation To Down Council
JANICE Symington, Manager at the Down Business Centre, led a presentation to Down District Council’s Economic Development Committee on Wednesday (8 May).
The Down Business Centre located on the Belfast Road outside Downpatrick is a Not for Profit Company run by a volunteer Board of Directors with a no-profit taking philosophy.
“We receive no grants or subsidies and have to compete on a commercial tendering basis for work from government agencies. Over the years we have worked with the small business sector in Down District and have worked in partnership with Down District Council, Invest NI and Enterprise NI and other agencies.
“Our Board of Directors is dynamic and recently we introduced four new directors who are leading and successful members of the local business community. We only have a small team with two providing advice, two secretarial and one in maintenance.
“The business centre has 36 tenants using 32,840 square feet, and 155 people are employed there. We are a caring landlord, understanding of the issues that small businesses face when starting up, and have managed to maintain our rents without an increase for six years. Our rents are lower than equivalent market rates.”
Advice, training and mentoring is offered to encourage business start-ups and the business centre offers one-hour assessment meeting, a training and mentoring session to help produce a business plan for up to nine hours. Help is also provided for clients who are making application to funding programmes such as the Down Rural Area Partnership.
In the last six months, the Down Business Centre has produced 58 business plans for new start-ups, and is well on its way to achieving its target of 114 for the year. This is a very significant contribution to the local economy.
“Our future role in local economic development too has to be considered,” added Janice Symington. “We are best placed as a one-stop shop for local businesses. And we add value to current programmes by working in partnership with Down District Council to fill gaps in current business support provision.
“We are aware of the implications of the review of Public Administration and have been talking to the Newry and Mourne Enterprise Agency to ensure a smooth transition into the new super council in South Down.
“It is our aim to to continue to remain as a top performer in the delivery of the Regional Start Initiative which we have achieved even with our small but dedicated team. And we would be keen to support a local business hub or forum. It is important to attract small business and keep small business in the area, and the use of modern and digital technologies is something which we actively support.”
Following Janice Symington’s presentation, new Board member Martin Gilchrist also made a short presentation. He explained he was a professional accountant but was deeply engaged in a number of high end, technological and digital initiatives which were a side of business life that needed to be grasped if the local economy is to move ahead. He said: “There is a lot going on at the moment which politicians and key drivers need to be aware of. I would like to say that the Beyond programme has been very useful but there is more than can be done.
“Down District needs to engage with this new business environment and listen to those involved in it and talk to them and learn. I am on the board of several of these bodies and I am not a technical person although I know something about social media. The business community in this district needs to engage more in business workshops and networks and we need to raise the level of local collaboration between businesses.
“And fundamentally, we need to determine if new investors are exploring the potential of the area, who do they talk to? If we can come up with a clear answer to this question then we will be serving the interests of new businesses in this district.”
Speaking at a presentation just prior to the one from the Down Business Centre, Invest NI Chief Executive Alastair Hamilton said that Invest NI would be willing to assist in working more closely with local interests and could involve his International Sales Team to assist. He also said that it would be helpful if a local area economic profile was up-to-date for foreign investors (something that needed to be driven locally).
In the discussion following the presentations, it emerged that Down District Council had been at odds with economic development as the Director had left 18 months ago from that section followed by a senior executive and they had not been replaced.
Councillor Anne McAleenan reminded the meeting that at the Policy and Resources Committee meeting the day before a decision was taken that the Chief Executive John Dumigan within three months was to provide a plan for the way ahead for the Council to be strategically and operationally capable of delivering on an economic development agenda for the district.
Councillor Eamonn Mac Con Midhe said that he welcomed the idea of a creative hub of business people shaping the economic strategy and the way forward for the district. “We have to listen to people such as Martin Gilchrist as they are the ones out there developing the knowledge and expertise in business and we need to work with them on this.”
Councillor Dermot Curran added: “We need to create a new roadmap involving Invest NI and the private sector.We need to take advantage of all opportunities. We need to act together as things will happen fast soon and RPA will be upon us.”