Murray Bell, President of Causeway Chamber of Commerce, the largest independent business network in the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough, discusses some of the priorities and the strength in a unified approach.
“For 98 years the Chamber has been helping businesses of all sizes to grow their network, knowledge, influence and reach. Sitting at the heart of the local business community, the Chamber has a large and active membership from sole traders to multinational companies across all sectors totalling more than 6,000 employees.
“Our relationships with others have helped us to achieve goals beyond those we could ever achieve alone. Across our network, we connect businesses locally, nationally and internationally, with other businesses, with decision-makers and with opportunities. As a respected, recognised voice for business, our opinions are regularly sought by policymakers and politicians and through our networks we have helped businesses of every size, in every sector, to thrive.
“The Causeway Coast and Glens area finds itself in exciting times, with plenty of opportunity ahead, from the organic growth of tourism, to the arrival of the Golf in 2019. We also have Northern Ireland’s first Enterprise Zone located within our region and we need to continue to promote and connect the right people to make the most of this opportunity.
“To prosper we need to focus on Skills, Infrastructure and Growth. Skills shortage is consistently raised as one of the biggest issues facing our members. There are job vacancies across our towns and villages, and employers cannot fill these because of the shortage of the appropriate skills in the local economy. In many other sectors, we need to promote enterprise and apprenticeship models for schools, colleges, and universities so that students and leavers can build up their knowledge of business, better preparing them for work or to set up their own business, and we need our businesses to be ready to take on and train new people.”
Murray adds: “Our Causeway Coast and Glens area, according to recent figures, is the second highest council area in terms of renewable energy production, and we need to build on this towards energy parity and then beyond to energy export. However, we suffer from poor transport and energy infrastructure and we are raising this regularly and know that our local representatives are doing the same.
“We need better transport links across the Borough and we need high-quality road and faster rail infrastructure that connects Coleraine to Belfast and Derry-Londonderry, allowing people and goods to travel here and move around.”
Explaining the growing importance of technology-based businesses Chamber member, Gary McClarty, Chief Executive of Coleraine based MCL InsureTech says:
“Over the last ten years MCL InsureTech has become one of Ireland’s leading online insurance companies. We are passionate about everything online and we are constantly embracing new ways of working to give customers the best possible online experience. We have the technological know-how and expertise to create innovative online loyalty services that will enhance the lives of customers who choose us as their online car insurance partner.
“We also market test our IT solutions in a real-time environment, enabling us to continuously improve the end result for both the consumer and business user. Our unique online insurance proposition has already enabled us to capture around €80 million of the motor insurance market in the Republic which equates to nearly one in every twenty vehicles. We intend to replicate this success in the Northern Ireland market and it is crucial that we can recruit skilled individuals to help us achieve our objectives.”
As part of a major expansion plan in Northern Ireland MCL InsureTech is to create 10 new jobs in the next 6 months, with a further 40 new jobs envisaged over the next three to five years. MCL InsureTech operates three different insurance brands; Its4Women.ie, BoxyMo.ie and 25plus.ie, as well as an IT solutions company DotSys Ltd and a media buying business B Connected Media. Staff numbers at the organisation have more than tripled over the last decade, up from 30 to 102.
Hospitality and tourism is also another growth sector and ‘A Causeway Welcome’ is a new initiative being developed by Causeway Chamber to support members. One of the forthcoming developments planning to create a significant number of jobs is the £20 Million Merrow Hotel and Spa, providing 118 rooms, a luxury spa with sea views, a leisure club with a 20m pool, a glass sauna and infinity pool, a steam room, a gym and studio, a demonstration restaurant, a bar/bistro restaurant, a signature cocktail bar, a conference space, meeting rooms and nine chalets serviced by the hotel. The Merrow would be located on Ballyreagh Road, Portstewart, adjacent to the start and finish line of the world renowned International NW200.
Local Chamber member, Vivienne Gilholm, discusses the economic benefits of the project:
“A successful outcome for the team would be to create the North Coast’s first luxury seafront hotel and spa. A number of local experts collaborated on the design to ensure the end result was a hotel that was sympathetic to its surroundings. With the number of tourists to the North Coast on the increase, we wish to provide accommodation and leisure facilities to meet demand. It is hoped that groundworks will start in 2019, creating up to 100 jobs locally.
“With two world class golf courses on its doorstep, the Merrow has the potential to become an ideal location for golfing enthusiasts. Portstewart has an excellent links course and is frequently described as one of Northern Ireland’s hidden gems, while Royal Portrush, which will host the 2019 Open Championship, is only a few miles away”.
Mark Donnelly from Merrow Hotel and Spa explains the significance of using a local architect to design the proposed development:
“The concept for the design of the hotel was to propose a low-lying building, predominantly three storey, set within its landscape that reached out to the coast and the NW200 circuit, wrapped around sun-filled courtyard spaces and that could become a focal or signature building for the area. The sea views of Inishowen, North Donegal, and the Scottish islands of Islay and Jura are also an important influence in the design. The objective was to create a building that is of its time and its place, without being ostentatious.”
To find out more the Chamber’s priorities and forthcoming plans, spaces are still available for the President’s Business Lunch. To book a ticket please contact Annette Deighan, Operations Manager, on 028 7034 3111.
Gary McClarty, Chief Executive of Coleraine based MCL InsureTech; Mark Donnelly from Merrow Hotel and Spa; Murray Bell, President of Causeway Chamber of Commerce and Annette Deighan, Operations Manager, Causeway Chamber of Commerce.