ENTERPRISE Minister Arlene Foster will meet the Caterpillar vice president in America next week in a bid to try and mitigate job losses at FG Wilson.
Politicians met at Stormont this week to determine how they can help the 760 people who are to be made redundant across the engineering firm’s three plants in Larne, Monkstown and Springvale in Belfast.
And Mrs Foster will come face-to-face with Bill Rohner, vice-president of Caterpillar’s electric power division, during a visit to the USA, where she aims to lessen the blow of the devastating job cuts.
The Minister has already been in talks with Mr Rohner, and she said he has given her assurances that the company is committed to staying in Northern Ireland.
Speaking at the Assembly on Monday, Mrs Foster said: “We were completely shocked by the magnitude of last week’s announcement, which came to light only a few days before the public announcement.
“As soon as I was made aware, I immediately contacted Bill Rohner and made contact with Doug Oberhelman, Caterpillar’s chairman and CEO, expressing my grave concern at the number of potential job losses and seeking the opportunity to meet him and his team to discuss the decision in more detail.
“Mr Rohner told me that it was a difficult decision, taken in the face of increasingly competitive global economic pressures. I sought assurances from him that the company is still committed to Northern Ireland, and he assured me that is the case and that it intends to maintain a presence in Northern Ireland - an assurance that I have also received in writing from Doug Oberhelman.
“I was already scheduled to travel to the United States next week, along with the chief executive of Invest Northern Ireland, to support Invest Northern Ireland’s ongoing work to attract high-quality inward investment and build trade opportunities for our local exporters. I will be meeting Bill Rohner during that visit to get a better understanding of the potential future impact and to see whether there are opportunities for us to mitigate the outworkings of this recent announcement,” Mrs Foster added.
The Minister received a letter from Mr Oberhelman last week, which stated: “Please be aware that our current plan is to continue to manufacture large gen sets from Northern Ireland and are actively looking for other work we can bring to our Northern Ireland facilities.”
Mrs Foster concluded: “I take that as an opportunity, and I intend to follow it up next week. There is certainly recognition of the skills and ability of the local workforce at FG Wilson, and I very much hope that we can bring further work to the company, be it in Larne, Monkstown or, indeed, Springvale in Belfast.”
Addressing MLAs at Stormont this week, Mrs Foster said she remains confident about the long-term sustainability of FG Wilson.
Responding to a question from DUP representative Alistair Ross, she commented: “Invest NI will work with the company to search out other work that Caterpillar is carrying out across its global sites in order to see whether we can assist with that in Northern Ireland. We have been able to do that with some very large companies that operate on a global basis. I think that there are opportunities for us to do the same with Caterpillar and to bring some work to Northern Ireland, in particular the sort of high value-added work that, we believe, we can do very well.”
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