There have been a number of NI Business events recently where the business community have been invited to discuss the limitations to growing our economy and what we can do to push ahead with the growth agenda.
More investment in skills development, reduced corporation tax and other tax breaks, a push on infrastructure projects and more access to finance for small business were among the topics of discussion but there was also a common consensus that Northern Ireland has to change its attitude and outlook if we are achieve the growth that we demand. This starts from a personal level but transpires right through businesses and organisations.
Visitors to NI have lots of positive things to say about the people here. Generally we are friendly and hospitable but there is an underlying gloomy side. I’m not going to make any attempt to look at where this gloom has entered into our psyche, I’m sure there are already volumes written by qualified social anthropologists and the likes who will point to our socio-political landscape. However, maybe I’m overly cynical when it comes to this, but seriously, we need to wise-up and move on!
Forgive my swooping general statements but as a people we are too negative. We may be a social lot but somewhere along the line we have become really afraid to tell people that we are good at something, without cringing and feeling really uncomfortable. What’s that about? Oddly, the successes that we do shout about, namely the Titanic, DeLorean and George Best, are all marred with tragedy! Maybe it’s ok to gloat about something that the world sympathises with rather than something that the world might actually be wholly inspired by.
All this gloom impacts how we behave and there is no doubt that it has a bearing on how our businesses behave in the wider world. We can no long afford to just be comfortable in our own skin, we need to break free from whatever it is that stops us from gloating once in a while.
The fact that just over 2% of our businesses here engage in export, equating to a mere 2% of UK exporters and significantly lower than the Republic of Ireland, strongly suggests that we have a problem. Chamber members were unanimous in suggesting that this insular outlook was largely due to many people within our business community lacking confidence or having an inferiority complex.
For some reason we are a people that feel uncomfortable in showcasing our success and this needs to change. There are amazing success stories among our business community here in NI but too often the headlines are dictated by our woes and this negativity fuels our lack of ambition.
Everyone has a part to play in changing this attitude. Our business community is full of success stories and it’s about time that these replaced the doom and gloom that dominates our local news and teatime chats in the canteen.
Success needs to be heard and shared and we must instil confidence throughout the business landscape. We can no longer afford to shrink in the face of opportunity, it is time to turn off the negative vibes, and have the courage to stand tall and be heard. The economy is picking up, let’s see if we can focus on that rather than dwell on a tough a few years.