The UK is the largest export market for Enterprise Ireland clients, which, despite the challenges of Brexit, grew 2pc to €7.9bn in 2019, with all non-food sectors recording growth of 6pc.
Adding to this, the north west of England is a particularly dynamic region which has grown at a faster rate than London in recent years - in fact, if it were a country it would be the twelfth largest economy in Europe.
This was the key driver for Enterprise Ireland when it selected Manchester as the location for its new office last year.
Here we focus on opportunities in manufacturing, specifically pharmaceutical, food and drink and packaging, along with partnerships with UK local authorities who have major spending budgets. We collaborate extensively with our London office and work as one team with our 20 colleagues who are specialists in various sectors including construction, life sciences, healthcare, digital technologies, cleantech and renewables. In effect, we are also the eyes and ears on the ground for our colleagues leading these sectors.
As the north of England is traditionally the industrial heartlands of the UK, having a base here shows our commitment to the region and we are attuned to the needs of Irish companies, which are active all across the area.
Accessibility is key and the Irish Sea has long been an important link between the UK and Ireland. So, as the Port of Liverpool has submitted a bid to become established as a UK freeport, this could provide an opportunity for Irish civil engineering companies and those with relevant smart ports solutions and automated and high-tech solutions which facilitate maritime trade and logistics.
Over the past number of years the area has experienced a boom in new building and infrastructure projects and there are many Irish companies leading in the Construction sector - John Sisk & Son created a major landmark with Manchester's Circle Square Affinity Living project, ESS Modular opened its Manchester office in July 2020, having completed a number of projects in Leeds and Oldham, and have a current project with North Manchester General Hospital. And Techrete's architectural precast concrete cladding can be seen on the iconic One and Two St. Peter's Square.
Manchester is also home to a fast-growing £5bn (¤5.6bn) digital ecosystem and has been officially ranked as the UK's Top Digital Tech City, while Newcastle won Smart City of the Year 2019 for its innovative approach in using technology to help transform services and improve the lives of residents.
So there is a lot happening in the region which could provide opportunities for Irish firms.
Indeed, digital tech company Gamma Location Intelligence has recently opened its first overseas office in Manchester as it expands into the UK, having been established in Ireland in 1993.
It has become a market leader in the provision of location intelligence systems and services which drive innovation across many sectors, including insurance and retail, focusing heavily on cutting-edge research and development projects, leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Last month, VRAI, a data-driven VR stimulation training for high hazard environments, announced its expansion into the UK with their first overseas office in Gateshead's PROTO Centre, the UK's immersive technology cluster and Europe's first dedicated centre for emerging technology.
There are also opportunities for Irish businesses who can support local authorities in digital transformation, smart cities, connectivity, transport, housing, infrastructure, roads and highways and adult and social care. A great example of this is SilverCloud, which works with Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, providing online support for those who may be feeling stressed and anxious due to the current pandemic.
Of course, there are still some challenges with uncertainty surrounding both Covid-19 and Brexit, but the UK will continue to be an important and attractive market for Irish enterprise.
In fact, earlier this month, we had a rich and productive meeting with Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram to discuss and agree the strongly aligned sectors of which Enterprise Ireland clients have strong supply chain capability. So we are looking forward to further collaboration and to have deeper engagement across these sectors.
Enterprise Ireland also warmly welcomes the announcement of a new Consulate General for the north of England and we are looking forward to working together to strengthen Ireland's presence in the region.
Laura Brocklebank is Senior Market Advisor, Enterprise Ireland, Manchester, UK
Sunday Indo Business