WORLD leading global marine outfitter MJM Group is refusing to rule out relocating its main manufacturing function to mainland Europe in the event of a no deal Brexit.
The company, which currently employs 600 people in Newry, of whom around 250 are EU migrants and mostly Poles, is understood to have been “constantly wooed” by Poland, where it already has an office presence.
And the prospect of switching manufacturing there was hinted at last week by MJM’s founder Brian McConville, who in a media interview in Britain said a £30 million expansion programme is currently on hold because of Brexit, but that a shift to Poland is “an alternative”.
But yesterday MJM stepped back from its chairman’s remarks, admitting that while it has been asked about the potential of manufacturing in Poland, its commitment is to Northern Ireland.
A spokesman told the Irish News: “We are pro-Northern Ireland business and hope the decisions made in the next few weeks will show that this stance is being listened to by those making the decisions.
“We want to continue our expansion plans here, but like every business we have to be prudent about the uncertainty of Brexit.
“We were just starting to see real green shoots in the Northern Ireland economy following the crash, before we were hit with the Brexit question.”
The statement adds: “The economy was not ready for making such a fundamental decision and we see no evidence, less than six weeks out from the leave date, to say that, deal or no deal, we will be better off.
“If we must leave, we support the withdrawal agreement with the backstop to allow us to deliver our business with certainty for at least the next four years.”
Mr McConville, who since 1983 has built the company into a global force (annual sales are north of £50m), told the Daily Telegraph that he wants to built his workforce to 1,000 people, but decamping to Poland would shrink his UK workforce to 200.
“What I’d like to know is what on earth was wrong with Theresa May’s deal?” he told the paper.
In the same interview he voiced concerns over new immigration controls that could set the bar for skilled labour at a prohibitive £30,000 a year and new regulatory and fiscal checks that could hold up his containers in ports like Rotterdam, giving his EU competitors a key time advantage.
“What we need is a deal. If all that’s required is to hire more people to do some more paperwork, we have the scale and cash-flow to live with that – but if I’ve got containers stuck in ports for 10 days, then that’s reputational damage and we’ll lose business quick,” Mr McConville said.
MJM has a long-standing relationship with Poland, enhancing its local workforce with a highly skilled pool of talent from the country for well over a decade.
In November the company officially opened an office in Gdanski, primarily as a design and administrative hub to support key activities and projects at its headquarters in Newry, and said the investment “likely would have happened despite Brexit”.
At the time MJM Group chief executive Gary Annett lauded the company’s “long and proud association” with Poland, adding: “Opening an office in Pruszcz Gda?ski cements our relationship with the country and is part of our global expansion plans and a reflection of our commitment to attracting a talented pool of people and a robust supply chain from here and other EU countries.
“As the UK continues to navigate its way through the Brexit negotiations it is prudent for MJM Group to expand our global reach to ensure we have the resources to continue to grow as a leader in the global marine outfitting market.”
MJM Group is a world leader in marine outfitting and has refitted some of the world’s largest cruise ships. Last year it completed its first ever contract in China and currently has a strong pipeline of projects for 2019 and beyond.