Markets in focus: Belfast’s top industries

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Following our recent report on what makes Belfast an attractive location to launch a business, we now take a closer look to find out more about the key sectors attracting investment interest.

Belfast at a glance

With a population of roughly 340,000 in the capital itself and over one million people in the wider region, Northern Ireland’s population is tipped to reach two million by 2026. 18.6% of the city’s population are younger than 15 years old, while 41.6% are under 30. The high standard of education, with the city hosting a Russell Group university (Queen’s University Belfast), is one of many factors which led to its top global ranking for quality of living (Mercer). Other attributes include affordable living costs, easy access to natural resources and low-cost office space. According to Start-up Cities Index, in 2017 Belfast was voted among the top UK cities to start a new business, with salary costs lower than the rest of the UK and a commitment to reduce corporation tax to 12.5%. Plus, it was the second most successful in the UK (after London) in attracting US tradeable services FDI projects. Alongside these factors, the city has become Europe’s leading destination for new software development projects and nearly 75% of investors in the region have reinvested due to such positive activity.

Industry focus


Industry Focus


Belfast is the number one destination globally for financial technology investment and one of the Financial Times’ fDi Intelligence’s Top 10 Digital Economies of the Future. As a leading location for software development, the city supplies major software to many global institutions and attracts investors from all over the world, including Allstate, CyberSource, Fujitsu, Cayan, BT, Arris and WANdisco. With world-class cyber security research at Queen’s University and 70% of IT professionals holding a higher education qualification (the highest in the UK), the IT industry is set to excel in all areas of AI, mobile apps and immersive technology.

Life and Health Sciences

Belfast’s cutting-edge facilities attract both a high amount of investment into its life and health sciences industry as well as specialists with varied expertise, including precision medicine, medtech and clinical trials. The city’s status as a pioneering centre for software development further supports its innovative approach to medicine; the city is recognised as a world leader in emergency cardiac technology. This industry shows no signs of slowing, and its ties with the city’s two prestigious universities means that Belfast’s science graduates enter the professional world already having gained experience with some of the world’s leading research facilities.


Northern Ireland is widely recognised for its prominent manufacturing history. A ‘strong contributor to economic growth between 2009 and 2016’, the sector contributed to GVA by around 1.4% compared to the UK average of 0.6% in the same period. Between July and September of 2018, manufacturing experienced its ‘fastest rate of output growth in nearly seven years’, revealing a 6.6% year-on-year growth. With excellent infrastructure, access to world-class research centres and a supportive business environment, this sector is set to continue thriving.

Financial Services

Already recognised as an established hub for financial services technology investment, more and more multinational financial institutions are bringing their business to the city. Alongside the global players, high-quality talent and low labour attrition rates have allowed indigenous brands to scale their presence quickly and successfully, resulting in a diverse and dynamic financial services market in Belfast and the surrounding areas.

Aerospace Engineering

The lucrative aerospace market has become increasingly important in driving Northern Ireland’s economic growth; with such diverse manufacturing and tech sectors, Belfast is well-placed to support such a rapidly evolving industry. Many engineering firms have already partnered with leading technology organisations to further develop their services, strengthening Northern Ireland’s status as a pioneering centre of aerospace engineering. As this industry evolves and matures, Belfast looks to play a major role in the continued research behind the growth.