Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Northern Ireland base saved us $1bn, US tech boss tells fellow investors

Prime Minister David Cameron with Secretary of State Theresa Villiers and First Minister Peter Robinson at Stormont Castle
Prime Minister David Cameron with Secretary of State Theresa Villiers and First Minister Peter Robinson at Stormont Castle

Having a base in Northern Ireland saved a US company more than $1bn over the past 15 years, a delegation of overseas investors has heard.

Suren Gupta, who is executive vice president of insurer Allstate's technology arm, told the Northern Ireland Investment Conference that few places in the world can compete with the region when it comes to setting up a European base.

"When I look at the prospects for investment, Northern Ireland is one of the best places to do business in," he said. "It really is a key ingredient in how we run our company."

He said the talent pool in Northern Ireland has been "outstanding", the government has helped the company build its business and the universities have offered their services gladly.

Mr Gupta was speaking in front of representatives from 121 executives of multi-national companies around the world – 55 of which are potentially new inward investors to Northern Ireland – taking part in the 24-hour conference organised by Invest NI.

He was one of a number of speakers from global companies which already have bases here to give testimony on their experience of operating on these shores, with the likes of Game of Thrones producers HBO, London law firm Allen and Overy, and US bank Citigroup urging new investors to consider a base here.

The conference came amid a raft of carefully-timed job announcements for Northern Ireland from both inward investors and indigenous companies in the run-up to and during the conference, totalling nearly 2,000 in less than two weeks. Shortly after Mr Gupta was speaking, plane-maker Bombardier Shorts announced 250 new jobs in east Belfast as it expands its business. It comes on top of the 230 jobs announced by the firm in its new research and development business earlier this week. Chief executive and president Pierre Beaudoin praised Northern Ireland's education system and apprenticeship programmes and said the company enjoyed a good relationship with colleges and universities.

Prime Minister David Cameron told delegates he was committed to making sure Northern Ireland was one of the best places in the world to do business and assured them that the Executive was committed to working together. But whether or not the conference and the offering here is enough to persuade new investment in Northern Ireland won't be known for some time.

The identities of the prospective investors were kept hidden due to "commercial sensitivities" for the duration of the conference and Invest NI won't reveal whether any new business has been won until investors sign on the dotted line. The last conference held here in 2008 was focused solely on US companies and was said to have helped persuade some firms to invest in Northern Ireland, despite coming at the start of a global recession.

Time will tell how this year's conference performs.