Belfast Telegraph

US envoy gives stark warning to business

By Clare Weir

Time is running out for the private sector in Northern Ireland to take advantage of the current economic climate by investing in their own businesses and attracting foreign investment.

That was the hard-hitting message from US Economic Envoy to Northern Ireland, Declan Kelly as he addressed over 250 figures from the public and private sector at an event hosted by the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce.

Mr Kelly said that the actions taken by the private sector now will set the agenda for the economy for the next two decades.

“Northern Ireland’s economy finds itself at a tipping point. One push in the right direction and it will keep moving forwards, a tip in the wrong direction and it will stumble.

“You as business leaders hold this delicate balance in the palms of your hands.”

He said that despite hard times, Northern Ireland was thriving in comparison to other countries. He told the audience at Belfast’s Europa Hotel: “You are living through the greatest opportunity you are ever going to see in your lives in business, although you might not see it like that.”

He said that last year was “tremendous” with positive developments for business, including the devolution of policing and justice, Londonderry winning the City of Culture 2013 title and investments by US companies.

“Make no mistake,” he said, “when multinational corporations like that invest, hundreds of other global companies take note.”

Mr Kelly added that low operating costs, a young, talented workforce, the Project Kelvin telecommunications link to the USA and a focus on the sectors driving the economy were all factors making Northern Ireland attractive to the rest of the world.

“If you miss this opportunity, you will never get it again. It will be a case of shame on you, and shame on us. The time for insular thinking in Northern Ireland is over. It has to end.

“History has shown that long term growth and seismic change can only take place when the private sector takes a pivotal role. You must make the change rather than waiting for it to happen.

“All too often in Northern Ireland you hear people asking how we can make this happen and who can do it for us? That has to end, you have to have the courage to take risks, bet on your people, bet on your culture, bet on the tenacity that got you through 35 years when no one wanted to come here.”

He pointed out that he had started a firm consisting of himself, a mobile phone and a car — and that the firm later sold for millions of dollars.

“When the world is falling down around you, invest. I invested money when everyone said it was crazy.”

“The decisions you make now will determine what will happen in the next two decades — you’re in a moment of great change right now. Now is the time to invest, now is not the time to keep cash in your pocket. Do not take the easy path, do not wait for the storm to pass.

“It’s no longer someone else’s problem, if you don’t, no one else will do it for you.”

Belfast Telegraph