With the economic development community slowly beginning to exit nationwide lockdowns, fDi is reaching out to professionals on the FDI frontline as they grapple with the biggest global challenge in recent history.

As the Northern Ireland Executive begins to lift restrictions, Kevin Holland, chief executive officer of Invest Northern Ireland, outlines his agency’s plans to support the recovery. 

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Q: How has the crisis impacted you on a personal level?

A: This crisis has meant a lot of adjustment. I moved to Northern Ireland late last year and was just starting to explore the region. I’m used to a lot of business travel, but have found myself grounded by the lockdown. This time last year, I was living in China. It’s reassuring to see China emerging from its lockdown and moving towards a more normal way of life. 

Q: How have your team’s day-to-day activities changed?

A: The entire Invest NI team was equipped to work from home from day one of the lockdown. It’s helped us keep our team safe, while still supporting our customers. 

We have shifted our focus to how we can best support our customers and the wider business community in Northern Ireland at this difficult time, working with companies on the immediate issues to help shape a response. 

Q: How have your main priorities changed? 

A: Our existing international investors are well established and each has a dedicated client manager within Invest NI. We are also adapting some of our support schemes to assist businesses which are experiencing difficulties.

Despite the challenges, I am encouraged to see continued interest from potential investors across a range of sectors as they develop post-Covid 19 re-emergence strategies. 

We will also look at new opportunities in new sectors and sub-sectors where Northern Ireland can provide a solution to companies and seek these out as recovery plans develop.

Q: What leadership skills are needed to respond to the crisis?

A: Compassionate leadership is vital at a time like this, as well as being flexible and creative in how we support our teams as well as finding solutions to support businesses. Clear and regular communication with staff, customers, stakeholders and partners is essential.

Q: What do you expect over the mid-to-long-term?

A: We need a quick economic recovery to ensure Northern Ireland is in the best possible position for future growth in a competitive global environment.

Working alongside industry, academia and government, we will look at how we can rebuild and support businesses and sectors that have been hardest hit by the crisis. This will need to happen in conjunction with any new UK-EU partnership – and potential UK-US trading relationship – that results from the ongoing negotiations.

Q: What is Invest NI's plan to return to more normal ways of working?

A: We will of course keep the situation under review and plan a phased return to the office when the timing is right, but right now I’m confident in our ability to deliver results with the team working at home and the technology we have at our disposal.

Q: How will investment promotion evolve as lockdowns are lifted?

A: The digital solutions that have been implemented will continue to drive leads and keep lines of communication open. However, relationship building and face-to-face interaction will always be a key element to any investment decision – and it will return as the world moves towards a new normal.

Kevin Holland is the CEO of Invest Northern Ireland. 

You can find the full archive of the fDi’s Virus Diaries series at the following link. If you work in economic development or investment promotion and want to share your experience in dealing with the coronavirus, get in touch at fDi@ft.com.