Northern Ireland’s ‘Bread and Butter’ Businesses Can Power Economy on World Stage

Government support for clusters of traditional industries here is needed to power the Northern Ireland economy on to the world stage, accountancy firm Harbinson Mulholland believes.

It was launching HM Homegrown, a campaign which celebrates the success of the north’s small businesses and family sector, which make up over 99 per cent of the local business sector.

The top 50 ‘bread and butter’ firms – identified through research carried out by Ulster University Business School – were unveiled at an event at Titanic Belfast.

And the results confirmed that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive in Northern Ireland, which boasts more home grown businesses per head of population than Wales, Scotland and all regions across the north of England.

Almost 75 per cent of them operate in just three sectors – manufacturing, construction and wholesale/ retail.

Some 21 are based in County Antrim (six in Belfast alone), 10 in Co Down, nine in Co Tyrone, 8 in Co Armagh, and one each in counties Derry (BSG Civil Engineering) and Fermanagh (Tracey Brothers).

Combined, the 50 firms raked in more than £100 m in operating profit in their last reporting year on a turnover of £1.6 billion (full list at

Almost £170 million in wages and salaries was paid out to over 5,700 employees, with 32 out of the 50 businesses being family-controlled.

Bawnbua Foods of Lurgan, which operates in the meat processing sector, headed the Top 50 list with a turnover of £43.36m. Second was Shelbourne Motors of Portadown, one of several motor vehicle dealers (£39.1m turnover) and third was Regency Carpet Manufacturing in Bangor (£39.1m).

In the three leading sectors,13 businesses were involved in construction, 12 in wholesale/retail, and 11 in manufacturing. Ten of the Top 50 were involved in food production and distribution, six in car sales, and four in shopfitting/joinery.

Darren McDowell, senior partner at HM, said home-grown businesses are the backbone of the economy, adding: “The Top 50 list underlines the vibrancy of this group of companies and the spending power they give to communities through employment.

“A diverse economy with successful businesses across many sectors is important, but a small economy like Northern Ireland’s can’t be world-class in every area, hence the need to focus on sectors where we do best.

“With the outcome of Brexit still putting a question mark over how we do business in the future, it is more important than ever to play to our strengths and ensure that we support successful clusters in doing great business around the globe.”