Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland's opening gambit in battle to attract US investment

By Margaret Canning

The First Minister and Deputy First Minister will be smarting this morning from accusations that they snubbed Pope Benedict by not accepting an invitation to meet and greet the pontiff on his UK trip.

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness have said they had other matters to attend to at home, as they helped open the new Adelaide Exchange premises of NYSE Euronext.

And who can blame them for putting domestic matters ahead of the state visit of the Pope - important as the latter undoubtedly is.

The united front presented by the two, plus Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster, is a strong and convincing image of the potential of Northern Ireland - particularly as we are currently steeped in the gloom of impending public sector cuts next month.

And more particularly, it's hard to escape the conclusion that yesterday's opening was timed to create some good feeling ahead of the investment conference in Washington next month.

It will be a very effective calling card for Northern Ireland ministers and the US economic envoy Declan Kelly to be able to say that NYSE Euronext has just opened glistening new premises in Belfast, as they head to Washington to the bash organised by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The latest investment is supposed to create around 400 jobs over the next couple of years, and many will closely scan the jobs pages for such posts. Neighbours at Adelaide Exchange will include Liberty IT, a wholly-owned subsidiary of a US global insurer Liberty Mutual Group.

NYSE Euronext was formed when the former bought the latter, which runs stock market exchanges in Paris, Amsterdam, and other European cities.

In 2008, NYSE Euronext took over Belfast firm Wombat Financial Software in a £100m deal. Coincidentally, NYSE Euronext announced a £3m investment which was to create 75 jobs during the much-hyped investment conference of two years ago.

But the seeds of the latest investment were sown back in 2007, when Mr Robinson's predecessor Ian Paisley and Mr McGuinness rang the trading bell at the Nasdaq exchange. The 'Chuckle Brothers' also met Duncan Niederauer, head of NYSE Euronext during the trip, where they lobbied him on coming to Northern Ireland.

Did their jokes make him laugh or was he just sold on NI? Either way, it's heartening that their efforts came to fruition at yesterday's opening. And let's hope the positive pictures of yesterday's opening make their way to the desktops of US chief executives pretty quickly.

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