When you think of a vibrant hub for tech companies Northern Ireland, and more specifically Belfast, probably wouldn’t be one of the first places that comes to mind. However over the course of the last decade this country has been steadily developing its reputation as a competitive and attractive location for well-established global firms and ambitious start-ups alike.
Credit for this growing appeal has to be given to the partnership approach of our public and private sector organisations. Companies interested in setting up a new office here will be met with a wealth of top quality candidates, excellent infrastructure, a comparatively low cost base and a supportive business environment, all cultivated by a shared long term vision for the potential of the country’s tech sector.
Two world renowned universities are based here – Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University – and both seek to proactively work alongside fast growing companies to deliver the talent they need across a range of disciplines.
Belfast now has its eyes on the specialist area of cyber security and already it is the world’s number one location for US-based investment in the sector according to FT fDi Intelligence 2018.The UK’s innovation and knowledge base for cyber security, the Centre for Secure Technologies (CSIT), is based in Belfast and it is the largest centre of its kind in the UK. Just this week Microsoft announced that they have chosen Belfast as the location for a new cyber security centre, creating 85 new jobs.
Other skills strengths in areas like data analytics and financial services software have led to a number of global brands establishing their centres of excellence in Belfast including Rapid7, Proofpoint, Repknight, Cyberlytic, Anomali, SevenTechnologies, AnsecAI, Citi, CME Group, Allstate, Liberty, Signifyd and Whitehat Security.
Rapid7 (47,651 sq ft) and Proofpoint (34,000 sq ft) have both re-invested in the city taking new headquarter buildings at Chichester House and Lazer 2 respectively. Signifiyd, a new entrant into the Belfast market, has recently taken close to 12,000 sq ft in River House and Imperva is currently looking for a new office close to 20,000 sq ft.
Belfast is also an ideal near shore centre for financial services activities. More than one third of the 30,000 people employed in the sector work for globally recognised brands such as Citi, Allstate, Mercer, Euronext, CME Group and Liberty IT as well as locally established companies such as First Derivatives and FinTrU.
Office take up in Belfast city centre across 2019 accounted for 517,380 sq ft, which is line with the five year average take up (519,000 sq ft) and well above the 10 year average take up of 405,539 sq ft. The TMT (tech, media and telecom) sector accounted for 35 percent of the take up in 2019, sitting above the five year average of 31 percent. This is a significant increase from the 23 percent of take-up in 2015.
The TMT sector has been one of the main driving factors for rental growth in Belfast, with refurbished stock in the city accounting for 780,215 sq ft completed and leased over the last five years.
We anticipate that 2020 will be another year for landlords, with very little availability of Grade A stock on the market. Approximately 844,000 sq ft (384,869 sq ft is pre let) of office accommodation is currently under construction (new build / major refurbishment) but only 199,739 sq ft of this will be delivered in 2020 and 92,869 sq ft of this is pre let. We believe there will be an incremental growth in rental throughout the year with a headline rent of £24.00 per sq ft achieved.
However the city recognises the need to increase this pipeline of high quality office stock and a number of large projects have recently been given planning approval – including Tribeca Belfast, a £500m urban regeneration scheme on a 12-acre site in the city centre. We have also seen the opening of flexible office space concepts, such as StepSpace and Urban HQ, which are tailored for fast growing tech companies and the ideal landing pad for companies hoping to test the water in a new market. The technology sector in Northern Ireland is booming and the doors will remain firmly open for any companies interested in investing here.
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