On June 13, Invest Northern Ireland, that country's economic development arm, celebrated the opening of its newest U.S.-based office with a cocktail reception at The Palace Hotel in New York. Over 100 financial services executives attended the gathering, which featured BITS president Catherine Allen speaking on risk management and outsourcing.
Invest NI's chief executive Leslie Morrison and his colleagues were on hand to put their homeland's best foot forward. In an interview with BS&T, Morrison and John Haran, Invest NI's SVP for North America, stressed that the agency is about more than helping companies outsource call center operations and software development to Northern Ireland.
"We tell companies that are looking to build their global capability to look at Northern Ireland as a near-shore solution," said Haran. "We talk to U.S. companies about their growth opportunities in Europe and help them do this through Northern Ireland."
Although Invest NI already has several offices throughout the U.S., according to Morrison, the move to New York makes sense since it is the world's center of finance. "Financial services is one of the most promising sectors for us," he said. "So why not be in New York City?"
In the past, Invest NI targeted manufacturing companies in the U.S. As a result, it established several offices in the nation's midsection, including one in Chicago. However, in recent years, there has been a shift in the kinds of foreign companies opening shop in Northern Ireland. More than 80 percent of the companies coming into the country today are knowledge/service businesses.
With a well-educated, low-cost workforce and real estate that tends to be less costly than even its counterpart to the south, the Republic of Ireland, Morrison and his colleagues believe Northern Ireland offers an attractive package to U.S. corporations.
"We have good, tech-savvy people," Morrison explained. "Sixty percent of our people go on to third-level education. This is a qualified, college-educated workforce. The University of Belfast has one of the largest IT departments in the U.K. Also, the infrastructure is fairly good. Belfast has two airports -- one with daily flights to Newark. The telecom infrastructure is completely fiber and at the end of the year we'll be 100 percent broadband enabled."
Another important element that the Invest NI executives think gives Northern Ireland an edge over other countries is the shared cultural affinity between Ireland and America. According to Morrison, the shared language is just the beginning. The values of the two countries are similar as well. He singles out intellectual property rights as an example. "Our laws and views on intellectual property are similar to those in the U.S.," he said. "We respect this."
Several large financial services firms already have capitalized on what Northern Ireland has to offer and have established operations there, including Allstate, Liberty Mutual and Citigroup.