Belfast Telegraph

Friday 11 July 2014

Viewpoint: America primes investment for us

There could scarcely have been a worse time to stage the US-Northern Ireland Investment Conference with corporate America reeling from the credit crunch sparked by defaults in sub-prime lending.

Given that unpromising background, it is astonishing that the US is digging deep to pump millions of pounds - ultimately it could reach £380m - into the province's economy.

That is a huge vote of confidence in a region which has prided itself on its American links, forged in the huge emigration from these shores to the new world in the late 19th Century. The fact that corporate America is prepared to put its money into Northern Ireland to bolster the new political arrangements is in stark contrast to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown who could be accused of getting his peace dividend on the cheap.

That is a huge vote of confidence in a region which has prided itself on its American links, forged in the huge emigration from these shores to the new world in the late 19th Century. The fact that corporate America is prepared to put its money into Northern Ireland to bolster the new political arrangements is in stark contrast to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown who could be accused of getting his peace dividend on the cheap.



The announcement that a new private equity company is to be established to dole out the American fund is a huge boost for the investment conference due to be held next month. Then, influential American business chiefs will be able to see the potential that exists in Northern Ireland at first hand. They will also be able to gauge how the new political arrangements are working by talking to the various Ministers and political parties.



Northern Ireland's politicians are regularly criticised - often correctly - but they are also due credit for their efforts since taking office a year ago to present an image of a province more at peace with itself than at any time since the 1960s, which incidentally were the last economic boom years here. The First Minister and Deputy First Minister, Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness, have been at the forefront in demonstrating the new political dispensation. They may have been ridiculed as "the Chuckle Brothers" , but today their work has put a smile on the face of the business community.



Northern Ireland is often sold abroad as a low-cost economy, but that is no longer enough to convince businesses to set up here. They can find much lower-wage economies in the developing world. The province needs to move up several gears and present itself as a modern, high-value economy. That is where the real benefit of this new American investment will come. It will act as pump-priming funding to create new indigenous businesses and instil greater confidence among the business community.



As the Belfast Telegraph's Business Awards celebrations earlier this week demonstrated, there are companies in Northern Ireland which can hold their head up high in any company. The only problem is that we do not have enough of them to correct the over-reliance on the public sector. Hopefully the American investment - which sends out a powerful signal of confidence to other global investors - will enable that economic sea-change to begin.

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