Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

It's no American dream, US firms love NI

Business editor Margaret Canning
Business editor Margaret Canning

The purchase of Schrader International in Denver, Colorado– the owner of Northern Ireland tyre pressure monitoring systems-success story Schrader Electronics – by Sensata Technologies in Boston is the latest in a long line of big deals involving American firms snapping up some of our household names.

Whale Pumps in Bangor is now part of the Brunswick Corporation in Illinois, while Liberty Insurance in Boston has bought home-grown broker Hughes Insurance.

And the deal which set the ball rolling was the purchase in April by Astec in Tennessee of engineering firm Telestack in Omagh for $36m.

Now its fellow Bostonian corporation Sensata Technologies has bought Schrader International for $1bn – a great turnaround on profit for private equity house Madison Dearborn Partners, which paid around half that when they bought Schrader International in 2012 from Tomkins.

It's clear that firms in Northern Ireland are increasingly attractive to our US corporate cousins – and the Americans have already visited Schrader in its facilities in Antrim and Carrickfergus to view the workings of their acquisition.

And, of course, the American fascination with Northern Ireland – and, indeed, the Republic – doesn't begin and end with those companies. High-profile property assets such as The Obel – and ,of course, the Northern Ireland portfolio of Nama – have also been bought over by American investors.

We have also marked the arrival into Belfast this week of Baker & McKenzie, a Chicago-based law firm which is taking on 250 people in the legal services professions.

Links with the US are growing stronger, and the torrent of deals should surely act as a salve on the minds of United Airlines as they weigh up the long-term future of the Belfast-Newark flight, which has been suspended for the first three months of next year.

Analysis by Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey, chiming with Independence Day on July 4, found that there were nearly 23,000 people in Northern Ireland who owed their livelihoods to 185 US-owned firms.

John-George Willis, the head of the corporate department at law firm Tughans, said Uncle Sam's influence would continue unabated.

"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."

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