Belfast Telegraph

Direct US investment in Northern Ireland set to grow, says top lawyer

By Margaret Canning

The predominance of US companies among foreign direct investors into Northern Ireland is expected to continue in the future, according to a corporate lawyer.

As US marks Independence Day today, research by Ulster Bank economist Richard Ramsey showed that US companies can claim the lion's share of foreign direct investment in Northern Ireland.

There were nearly 23,000 people in Northern Ireland who owe their livelihoods to 185 US-owned firms, according to the figures drawn from the Department for Finance and Personnel's inter-department business register.

Those companies included US retailers employing around 6,000 people in Northern Ireland, including Walmart-owned Asda's 4,900 staff.

But Mr Ramsey said that the Republic, with its lower corporation tax, boasted even more US firms – around 531, with 100,000 direct employees. John-George Willis, the head of the corporate department at law firm Tughans, said Uncle Sam's influence would continue unabated.

The firm has this year acted in two major corporate transactions involving US takeovers of Northern Ireland companies – the purchase of Whale Pumps in Bangor by Brunswick Corporation and a deal by Astec to buy Telestack in Omagh, Co Tyrone.

Mr Willis said: "There's going to be a succession of US acquisitions of Northern Ireland companies in the next two years, in some sectors in particular.

"Aztec is a Nasdaq-listed company and its rationale in making a Northern Ireland firm its first European acquisition was to give itself credibility in a new sector – aggregates handling equipment manufacturing.

"For a listed company like that to make its first European acquisition in Northern Ireland is a big, big statement."

And the purchase of Whale Pumps by Brunswick marked the first European acquisition for its marine parts and accessories division, he said.

Such examples would encourage more, similar purchases, he said. But he added: "US undertakings have been here since the 1950s when the likes of Dupont set up here.

"There are affinities between here and the US, particularly its east coast, due to a common language and ancestry – and I think US investment will continue to dominate among investors here."

Last month also saw the multi-million takeover of Hughes Insurance in Newtownards by Boston-based Liberty Insurance.

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