US business delegation's tour to explore trade opportunities in Northern Ireland
Senior business people from the US state of Georgia are investigating trade links with Northern Ireland during a visit here this week, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
And prominent Northern Ireland businessman Ronnie Foreman is leading the five visitors from Berrien County on their tour of the country.
They'll be visiting key companies with a view to developing trade links with Georgia, one of the US's fastest-growing States.
The visitors include Ed Perry, the owner of Horse Creek Winery in Nashville, Georgia, as well as director of Berrien County economic development authority, Chrissy Staley, and Nick Lacey, chairman of the authority.
They're joined by Commissioner Robert Griner, president of Citizens Bank, and Norman Lovein III, chair of Berrien County Chamber of Commerce.
Mr Foreman, who operates Foreman Consultants in Crawfordsburn, Co Down, with business partner Gary Jamison, said Georgia's economy was strong and the potential existed to do business with Northern Ireland.
"Its state capital of Atlanta has been growing at an enormous rate, attracting businesses from all over the world.
"It has also become stronger in automobiles, like many of the southern states. It's a major producer of cotton and nuts like pecan and peanuts, as well as major timber products.
"It's also the home of Chaparal, which is the world's biggest maker of leisure boats."
Mr Foreman ran an electrical products company, Alpha Controls, which he sold to an American business.
He then developed a specialism of helping companies develop their business on the other side of the Atlantic.
That has included helping US firms establish operations in Northern Ireland, and vice versa.
Among those he's helped set up here are Fortune 500 companies, including an operator in the insurance industry. "I've also served on the boards of many of these companies and I've usually remained chairman for eight or 10 years, always during their growth phase."
In recent years, he's led four business delegations into the US, and helped a major American construction firm to set up in the Republic.
His links with Georgia go back to around 1981, when he met Nick Lacey, who was then serving in the US Air Force.
"He eventually became the president of the economic development authority for Berrien County, and asked me for ideas about economic development of their part of the world," said Mr Foreman. "We've developed an action plan for their county with a number of elements, including the idea of looking overseas to find partner companies. We'd hope that they might find some partner companies or a place to sell or set up their enterprise."
The group's itinerary for much of the week is kept under wraps due to commercial sensitivity but they will start today with a briefing on doing business in Northern Ireland.
"They'll then meet all sorts of companies who manufacture and who are interested in setting up out there," added Mr Foreman.
"Similarly, some of the Northern Ireland companies they'll be visiting are very, very eager to perhaps look at joint venture companies to take Northern Irish products into America."
Mr Foreman is also chairman of Actavo in Northern Ireland - formerly Siteserv - which carries out broadband installations in private homes. He also served as a Belfast Harbour Commissioner from 2005 to 2012.