A region renowned for its work ethic and friendliness, Northern Ireland now has political stability to match, and benefits from low congestion, inexpensive public transport and a crime rate less than half of the UK average. However, the region's reliance on public-sector employment suggests it may be hit hard when government spending cuts start to bite.
The region is very strong in the software, financial services and telecoms sectors, but is also witnessing clusters of excellence emerging in areas such as life and health sciences and manufacturing. Belfast has recently been ranked the top location in the British Isles for customer call and contact-centre based activities. Northern Ireland's mobile communications sector now has a cluster of world-class companies such as Openwave, Intelliden, mFormation and Aepona that draw on the relevant expertise of the region's two research-focused universities, Queen's University Belfast and the University of Ulster. Since Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that shares a land border with a euro participant (the Republic of Ireland), the business community and banking and services sector in the region regularly conduct business in euros.
Northern Ireland is served by three international airports: Belfast International, George Best Belfast City and the City of Derry. Flight times to London are just an hour, and the three airports serve a variety of UK and international destinations. Northern Ireland is also served by five ports, including the Port of Belfast, one of the UK's most important, handling 17 million tonnes per year.
Private-sector median wage is £17,000, labour turnover rates are among the lowest in Europe and the region's well-educated workers provide a healthy stream of fresh talent for knowledge-based companies. Northern Ireland has one of the youngest populations in Europe, and educational achievements are high, with students consistently performing well above other UK regions at GCSE and A-Level. More than 2,000 people graduate each year with business qualifications. Queen's University research has spun out more than 50 companies, creating some 700 jobs in the process, while the University of Ulster's course provision is the largest in Ireland.
Seagate Technology, Fujitsu, Bombardier Aerospace, Microsoft, Caterpillar, Polaris Software Lab, Liberty Mutual, HCL BPO.
Quality of life
You can cross Northern Ireland by car in about two hours, north to south and east to west. The countryside offers dramatic coastlines, castles, mountains, lakes and some of the best golf courses in the world. Activities on offer include fishing, water sports, walking trails, scenic drives and historical landmarks. Belfast has many good restaurants, cinemas, theatres, galleries and arts centres. The region offers some of the lowest house prices in Europe too.
Office rents from £14 per sq ft in the Greater Belfast area, industrial rents from £3.50 per sq ft, and land priced at about £115,000 per acre.
Invest Northern Ireland's property assistance scheme offers financial help and advisory support towards new-property development projects where a funding gap has been identified. Eligible companies are typically those from the manufacturing or international tradeable sectors that can demonstrate that, currently or over the next three years, their business will have total sales of more than £100,000 a year and sales outside the region of greater than 25% of turnover or greater than £250,000 a year.
Northern Ireland Science Park in Belfast's waterfront Titanic Quarter, 400,000 sq ft of hi-tech, flexible workspace to service the region's ICT, life science, engineering and biotech sectors; Weavers Court, a former Belfast linen mill converted into office spaces ranging from 135 sq ft for serviced offices through to 11,000 sq ft for modern offices, workshops, warehousing, storage and industrial premises.
The UK's largest lake is in Northern Ireland. Lough Neagh covers 147 sq miles and is popular for water-skiing, windsurfing, sailing, canoeing and bird-watching.
Invest Northern Ireland - 028 9023 909; www.investni.com
Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry - 028 9024 4113; www.nicci.co.uk
Women in Business NI - 0845 607 6041; www.womeninbusinessni.com.