Exports are vital for survival of small firms, says IoD chairman

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Small manufacturers need to export to survive in an e-commerce focused global economy, according to the Yorkshire chairman of the Institute of Directors (IoD), whose plans for her own expanding firm include targeting the United States and the Far East.

Wakefield-based ICW, a designer and manufacturer of bespoke glazed units, already has a diverse customer base. One of its recent projects involved the design of the glazing for a new leopard enclosure at Yorkshire Wildlife Park, while ICW also has clients in healthcare, hospitality, motor racing and security.

However, managing director Margaret Wood said the company, which is approaching a £500,000 turnover, representing a 10 per cent increase on the previous year, needs to take advantage of opportunities in the US and the Far East to grow further.

The firm has supplied into international markets such as Malaysia and the US, but the majority of its customers are currently UK-based. Mrs Wood added: “I think there’s nowhere out of bounds. It [export] is vital for the health of the country and it’s vital for the growth of small businesses.”

Yorkshire IoD is working with UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) and Leeds Metropolitan University to deliver an export-focused event, named Momentum Gathering, as part of the Yorkshire International Business convention on Monday, June 18 in Leeds.

Lord Green, Minister of State for Trade and Investment, Welcome to Yorkshire’s international marketing director Peter Dodd and Tim Bailey, international trade director at Chamber International are among the speakers. Mrs Wood said: “At present there is a small percentage of UK businesses exporting in Yorkshire. We want to change that and Momentum Gathering is looking to enthuse those businesses considering new markets and hopefully point them in the right direction.”

ICW, which sources most of its raw materials, including its aluminium glass requirements, from within the UK, recently re-located to a new factory not far from its previous site in Wakefield, which saw its premises increase from 3,000 sq ft to 4,700 sq ft.

Mrs Wood, who started the company 20 years ago, said that as the business is niche rather than volume orientated, it has the ability to be flexible. And it is in the design side of the business that she expects to see the most growth.

She said: “I think that despite the negativity around, within the next 18 months I think there will be a different UK economy. I want to be part of that. I want to see this company grow.

“It’s about being here for the long term and ensuring the UK does keep a manufacturing and engineering base.

“If we lose that, and just become assemblers, then I think that we will lose that unique ability of the UK to innovate.”

The economy will be e-commerce focused, she said, adding: “It’s going to be fast and there needs to be that customer focus to meet the demands of a global economy.”

This year is the year for the UK “to reassert itself on the world stage as a key player”, according to Mrs Wood.

“Overseas markets still want to trade with the UK because we are still recognised as being democratic trading partners who will give as much as we take.

“What we have to do is capitalise on this goodwill in emerging markets such as Eastern Europe, namely Turkey, Africa, the Middle East as it emerges from turmoil, China as it seeks to trade on even terms and India as it continues to provide greater opportunity for all its peoples.”

Mrs Wood called on the Government “to pay more attention to the contribution that manufacturing makes to the economy in the UK”. She said: “There is still a perception that manufacturing is dirty, yet in today’s modern world nothing could be further from the truth and yet it is a very real way of powering the UK economy back to a position of strength.

“I would like to see the Government get behind manufacturing with training and education geared towards careers in science, engineering, life sciences and the digital sector.”