Monday 20 November 2017

Manufacturers fear small firms won't get right help

• Sean McNamara of ABC Nutrition in Shannon says he is disappointed to see his local County Enterprise Board being closed.

"I found the Clare County Enterprise board very good. We got a lot of support from them. Some business organisations are delighted to deal with the foreign multinationals but they often forget about local enterprises.

ABC Nutrition manufactures a range of sports nutrition and other health nutrition products.

"We export 90pc of our product so the bigger organisations such as Enterprise Ireland are happy to deal with us," he says.

But many small businesses struggle to get on the radar and have not had the same experience.

He said the biggest problem small businesses face making is the leap from 10 or 11 employees to 50 or 60.

"This is a crucial time for companies and they really need the support from business groups such as Enterprise Ireland if they are to expand," says Mr McNamara. He believes these businesses are key to creating jobs in Ireland.

"It is easier for them to expand than for a start-up to create new jobs," he said.

Commenting on the new finance and lending measures announced in the plan, Mr McNamara said credit is always an issue for small businesses.

"We are growing at 50pc per year. That sort of growth demands a lot of money for infrastructure and stock. But in reality most businesses only need a small amount of money to get over a hump. At the moment everyone is tightening their credit conditions."

• Bernard Coyle founded the Mr Crumb food company back in 1996 and now employs 64 full-time staff in Mullingar.

He said the measures to encourage lending to small business make sense.

"It is hugely expensive to get into the food industry," says Mr Coyle. "There are a large number of artisans making soda bread or chutney or the like. They are micro companies employing one or two people. It is very expensive for them to move to the next stage where they might employ 10 people."

Mr Coyle's own company, which now supplies supermarkets in Ireland, the UK and France, made the transition from a two-man operation to the present operation in several stages. That included investing more than €5m in a new 30,000 sq ft factory in the middle of the last decade.

"It's a huge, huge leap of faith," he said. Companies in the food sector must regularly invest in equipment to keep standards high.

"The multiples keep raising the bar." Mr Crumb, for example, is currently planting 22,000 trees to remain carbon neutral.

Even banks will admit that they have forgotten how to lend to companies and entrepreneurs, Mr Coyle said. "Banks will openly say that we have lost our way."

Although he does not need credit himself, the Westmeath businessman describes credit as resembling stepping stones which help entrepreneurs cross a river and get their businesses to the other side where they can create new employment.

Still, he says it is vital that the Government exclude "chancers" from new credit initiatives. The sort of people who borrow money, then declare bankruptcy only to open up again a few weeks later must be excluded, he added.

• Graham Clarke and Sophie Morris set up Kooky Dough two years ago and have already managed to break into the Irish and UK market.

The company produces raw cooking dough which can be readily baked into cookies and was set up with an initial investment of just €300.

"Our experience with the County Enterprise Board is very positive. You have a more intimate relationship with the enterprise board, compared with Enterprise Ireland," Graham Clarke said.

He is wary of the new credit scheme which will allow the State to guarantee 75pc of some loans to businesses.

"Anyone can come up with a good business plan. But implementing it is the problem. The entrepreneur has to carry more than 25pc of the risk. We are all living with the consequences of money being too readily available. It sounds good in theory but we'll have to see how it works in practice," he said.

Irish Independent

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