Northern Ireland

Moorings Mediquip receives support from Michelin to expand

Moorings Mediquip is a little company with big ambitions.

For much of the last 20 years the County Antrim firm has distributed equipment such as wheelchairs and specialised hospital beds to health boards and charities across Ireland.

But a couple of years ago it took a big leap into manufacturing.

It designed a walking aid for children with cerebral palsy known as the 'Buddy Roamer'.

It supports the weight of the child under their arms but allows them to move freely.

Alistair MacCorkell is the firms operations manager.

"Eighty per cent of our components are manufactured in County Antrim - we are then doing final assembly of those here in Ballymena and then we sell the product throughout Ireland and Scotland ourselves," he said.

"We then export others to distributors in eight other countries such as New Zealand, Australia, the USA and Canada."

Designing and manufacturing such a specialised piece of equipment requires expertise and money - something many small businesses lack.

But Moorings Medici did not turn to the bank for help.

Instead they took advantage of assistance offered by the tyre manufacturer Michelin, which has a base in Ballymena.

Since 2004 it has been awarding loans to County Antrim businesses and providing them with expert advice.

Cecil Caldwell, Michelin's developments manager, said: "The help can be in terms of loans or advice support, in other words our expertise within the plant can help some of the smaller businesses in the area."

Advice

Michelin gives loans at the Bank of England base rate. Over the last eight years it has given out over £1m.

Moorings Mediquip received a relatively small loan of £25,000 but Alistair MacCorkell said the business advice has been worth much more.

"We need support because we are a small business with a very small engineering team, so Michelin, as a large manufacturer, have lots of people with lots of years of experience who can advise us on setting up an efficient production line," he said.

So what's in it for Michelin?

Cecil Caldwell said it is something the company does wherever it is based and it is part of its corporate social responsibility.

"We believe it helps the area itself and helps the other businesses to be more successful and in turn will help Michelin as well."

Similar schemes operate in North Staffordshire, East Lancashire and Dundee.

Michelin claims businesses it has supported have created 300 jobs over the last decade.

Northern Ireland's economy is heavily reliant on the public sector and there have been many calls for more entrepreneurship.

Moorings Mediquip is one local company answering that call.

In the midst of a recession the company is even daring to utter the word expansion.