Lack of Executive making Northern Ireland 'less attractive to investors'
The Northern Ireland head of a body representing small business has said there is still goodwill towards the province in Washington - although the lack of an Executive is making it less attractive to potential investors.
Representatives from business here, including Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) policy chair Tina McKenzie, are in Washington for St Patrick's Day events.
Ellvena Graham, the president of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, is also taking part, along with CBI NI chairman Trevor Lockhart.
While the leaders of the two main political parties here have not been invited to key White House events, the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, David Sterling has been in attendance.
A spokesman confirmed he had attended yesterday's Speaker's Lunch on Capitol Hill, attended by President Trump and the Taoiseach, and the American Ireland Fund Gala.
And economic development agency Invest NI said its executive director of international business Steve Harper had attended events in Washington, giving a presentation on US export and investment successes in NI yesterday.
A spokeswoman for Invest NI said she didn't believe its ability to promote the province was being hindered by the lack of an Executive. "Our international proposition is based on a skilled workforce, competitive cost base, a high quality of life and proximity to markets or customers."
But Ms McKenzie said that the "current absence of an Executive is a negative, both for potential investors and for FSB members back home, although there is still a tremendous amount of goodwill from people in the US".
"I have had some really good meetings, emphasising that Northern Ireland has a great offer in terms of its investment potential and the talent of its people," she added.
"I have been meeting with senior people in US universities about how we can improve partnerships to benefit our young people and businesses in Northern Ireland. Clearly, in a political vacuum, civic society and business have an increasingly important role to play and FSB has been stepping up to the plate to make sure the whole of Northern Ireland business has a voice."
But Mark O'Connell, the head of investment advisers OCO Global, said a general lack of warmth in the Trump administration towards Northern Ireland was a greater hindrance. He said: "NI businesspeople are sadly accustomed to no leadership on economic issues.
"Even when there is a government in place, business is way down the list of priorities.
"But happily we have a get up, get out and get at it culture which I see every time I meet Northern Ireland companies, and the exchange rate is helping at the moment."
He added: "We are busier than ever advising NI-based firms on expansion in the US, Republic of Ireland and Middle East.
"We are seeing a slowdown in outward US foreign direct investment in response to tax reforms and growth in the US economy, while the EU looks is if it is running out of patience with Ireland special status as a low tax economy. So I expect FDI on both sides of the island to take a dip in the short to medium term, and we need to look to indigenous firms and local enterprise to pick up the slack."