Peter Robinson: World brand names prepared to invest in Northern Ireland
First Minister Peter Robinson has said two "world brand name companies" are considering investing in Northern Ireland as the setting of a lower rate of corporation tax for the province draws closer.
Northern Ireland hopes to win the right to set its own rate of corporation tax to compete with the Republic's low-tax regime.
With the UK set to have a rate of 20% from April, Northern Ireland would set a rate of 12.5%, in line with the Republic.
Mr Robinson told the Assembly that he met the unidentified companies during a flying visit to the US with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness last week.
He said the engagements had been "very valuable" and the companies had already had contact with Invest NI, the agency tasked with attracting foreign direct investment to Northern Ireland.
"We met two very significant world brand name companies that have been spoken to by Invest NI over a prolonged period of time.
"I have - I do not want to say "certainty" - certainly a very firm view that both of those companies will be looking to invest in Northern Ireland with a substantial number of jobs."
Mr Robinson said Northern Ireland was an attractive prospect for investment by big overseas firms, even without low corporation tax.
He added: "We have a very skilled workforce, we have good infrastructure, we are cost-competitive when it comes to salaries and property. All of those factors joined together, along with the loyalty of staff and the low churn rate that comes with that, shows that Northern Ireland has a hard-to-beat proposition for inward investment."
Legislation for Northern Ireland to have the power to set its own rate of corporation tax was passed by the House of Lords last week and must now receive Royal Assent. The political parties also have to agree to a budget and welfare reform.
The First Minister was asked by DUP MLA William Humphrey if he believed progress towards a lower rate of tax had prompted "genuine interest".
Mr Robinson said that there had been "significant interest" in the issue when he and the Deputy First Minister held a lunch with business people in New York.
And he said that Invest NI chief executive Alastair Hamilton had also been answering enquiries about what form corporation tax devolution might take.