Most companies on both sides of the border are firmly in recovery mode as Covid-19 restrictions ease, according to InterTradeIreland’s latest quarterly business monitor.
Three quarters of all businesses are now operational, indicating a return to economic momentum, while over half of SMEs in the tourism and leisure sectors have re-opened their doors.
Growth is starting to move on the path of pre-pandemic levels, with 71% of firms reporting that they are stable or growing.
The monitor shows that an up-lift in sales is visible across all sectors and size of firms.
However, the standout performers are businesses that export off the island and those that trade across the border.
“It’s great to see that many firms are now on course for recovery,” said Kerry Curran, InterTradeIreland’s Acting Director of Strategy and Policy.
“InterTradeIreland’s research demonstrates exporters and cross-border traders consistently lead the way in growth, which is again borne out in these latest figures,” he said.
Mr Curran said the findings also indicate a return of consumer confidence, and plans among SMEs to undertake more investment over the next twelve months.
However he said it is worth pointing out that for businesses thinking about making investment decisions, over a third in Northern Ireland and 36% in Ireland say stability in the new trading arrangements is a very important factor impacting their spending decisions.
“This illustrates the importance of clear guidance for firms when doing business between Ireland, Great Britain and Northern Ireland,” he said.
The impact of both Brexit and Covid continue to ripple through the economy, particularly affecting supply chains – the survey finds.
It reveals more firms are now sourcing components locally, within their own jurisdiction.
This shift is most prevalent for firms in manufacturing and construction, with nearly a quarter of businesses in these sectors opting to buy from suppliers nearby.
Across all the firms surveyed, 15% are now buying from a local source.
In terms of issues facing companies, the survey reveals that Covid remains the key challenge.
However, other growing concerns high on the agenda for businesses include the impact of the rising costs of overheads, the rising costs of energy and recruiting staff.
“Over half of businesses are reporting that rising costs is a pressure point,” said Mr Curran.
“In addition, firms are finding it hard to recruit the correct people; it’s not unreasonable to assume that wage inflation could also be on the cards as SMEs seek to attract talent,” he added.
For businesses that want to stay competitive, Mr Curran said innovation is key.
“Technological change is at the intersection of productivity and growth.
“It’s heartening to see that one in four business that buy and sell across the border plan to engage in research and development activity in the next 12 months.
“It’s not enough for firms to stand still, to move forward SMEs must invest in innovation,” he said.