EDM Spanwall Facades advertisement in Manchester City Council’s Building Control Magazine
This major project at Maynooth is the NUIM ICT (Information & Communications Technology) Hub which currently under construction, will feature high performance curtain walling and bespoke perforated aluminium rainscreen cladding manufactured by Spanwall.
Spanwall makes an apperance in the published VM Zinc Gallery 2014 Edition
By Jamie Smyth in Belfast
The metal rolling machines at the warehouse owned by architectural wall cladding company Spanwall Facades are busier than they have been for several years.
The company, which makes exterior panels for big building projects such as office blocks, railway stations and airports, is finally seeing an end to a bitter recession in the region that at one stage threatened its business.
“It was a struggle. We got hit with a lot of bad debts and banks are not terribly interested in supporting companies and extending credit,” says Tony Reid, co-founder and chairman of Spanwall. “But we are now seeing a recovery. We are growing again.”
Spanwall is one of hundreds of small and medium- sized businesses in Northern Ireland, which are the main private sector employers in a region that hosts only a handful of public listed companies. The health of the SME sector is critical for a wider economic recovery in a local economy that has lagged behind other UK regions in emerging from a recession that began in 2007.
“Northern Ireland went into the downturn ahead of the UK, largely due to the slowdown in the construction, property and housing market sphere,” says Richard Ramsey, economist with Ulster Bank. “It is now emerging from the downturn later than the UK.”
The region’s proximity to the Republic of Ireland, which suffered a big financial crisis in 2008, has acted as a drag on the economy.
A local housing boom and bust, in which house prices have halved since 2007, has had a devastating effect on the construction sector, prompting unemployment to rise to its highest level in the recession since the Good Friday peace deal was signed in 1998.
To survive, Spanwall was forced to reduce its workforce to 40 people, down from 140 before the crash. At one point it introduced a three-day week to cope with a slump in demand. But over recent months it has been winning more contracts at home and abroad as construction picks up.
“We are getting a lot of smaller jobs, which is good for spreading the risk,” says Mr Reid. “I would expect sales to grow by 7-12 per cent this year and we should turn a small profit this year.”
The pick-up in business activity is being experienced across the region with Ulster Bank’s Purchasing managers’ index data last month showing the first expansion of private sector output in Northern Ireland since November 2007. Similar surveys for the UK as a whole began showing an increase as far back as May 2009, underlining how the region has suffered a longer downturn.
Unemployment figures published last week were encouraging. In the second quarter the jobless rate fell to 7.5 per cent in Northern Ireland, which is below the UK average of 7.8 per cent.
Simon Hamilton, Northern Ireland’s finance minister, said the new economic data suggest economic recovery is now under way.
“We have some distance to go yet before the economy is fully recovered and there will still be some pain along the way, but I sense we have turned the corner,” says Mr Hamilton.
A quarterly economic outlook published by PwC last week also concludes the recovery has begun.
“Northern Ireland seems to be exhibiting the first tentative signs of recovery; business activity, orders, export activity and employment moved into positive territory in July, with all sectors sharing in the relatively sudden upswing,” says the PwC report.
But PwC warns “any recovery is still likely to be slow”. It predicts gross domestic product will grow 0.5 per cent in Northern Ireland in 2013, half the 1 per cent growth forecast for the UK as a whole.
“In terms of job creation, exports and forecast economic growth, Northern Ireland is demonstrating the slowest recovery among the 12 UK regions, well behind London and the southeast, which are expected to grow in 2013 by 1.2 per cent and 1.5 per cent, respectively,” says the report. PwC forecast house prices in the region may not recover to peak values until 2025.
But for Northern Irish companies such as Spanwall the first “green shoots” of recovery are welcome after six difficult years, which has seen many companies go into liquidation.
“Prices have returned to more realistic levels as competitors have gone out of business in the recession,” says Mr Reid. “We don’t have many competitors left in our sector.”