Belfast Telegraph

US envoy announces top-level trade visit

By Margaret Canning

A leading US politician famed for his efforts to boost business in his home state is set to visit Northern Ireland on a trade mission, it was announced yesterday.

Democratic Governor of Maryland Martin O'Malley has been invited by First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

Declan Kelly, US Economic Envoy, welcomed news of Governor O'Malley's upcoming visit during Washington's American Ireland Fund National Gala, which is part of St Patrick's week celebrations for the Irish-American community.

"Governor O'Malley has done a tremendous job fostering economic development in Maryland, and his leadership in bringing a trade mission to Northern Ireland sends a powerful message about the support that exists for Northern Ireland across the United States," Mr Kelly said.

He added that Governor O'Malley was chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, which made him an influential figure in Irish-American circles. "He takes a strong and active interest in Ireland north and south."

When that visit would take place was a matter for Governor O'Malley, Mr Kelly added.

Yesterday Mr Kelly and the US Chamber of Commerce hosted a business event highlighting opportunities for increased trade and investment between the US and Northern Ireland.

The 100 guests included potential and existing US corporate investors and homegrown entrepreneur Brian Conlon.

The First Derivatives chief spoke to delegates about his experience of growing his international financial software business from its base in Newry.

US television network HBO also spoke about filming fantasy TV series Game of Thrones in locations around the province, including the Paint Hall in the Titanic Quarter. A full series based on the books by George RR Martin has been commissioned by the network after a successful pilot.

With a US-NI investment conference having taken place in October last year, the Tipperary-born envoy - who was appointed by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton - said there was no risk of US companies running out of interest in Northern Ireland.

"The goodwill never goes away. You just need to keep pushing and get people who don't know about Northern Ireland. There are 320 million people in the US and many companies who don't know what Northern Ireland has to offer."

And a lower level of corporation tax was only part of a story which included the existing selling points of the low operating costs of doing business in Northern Ireland and the province's educated workforce, according to Mr Kelly.

However, "anything that is pro-business is helpful to what we are trying to do".