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Address by Declan Kelly, US Special Economic Envoy to Northern Ireland, to 40th plenary of BIPA

Added 23-Feb-2010

Thank you for this opportunity to address you here today. In the past month Northern Ireland found itself at yet another crossroads, one of many it has faced in its recent past. The choices it faced were complex as always, but at the end of the day they became very simple, a choice between progression and regression, a choice between moving forward and moving backward, a choice between leaving the past even further behind or allowing it to prevent the region from moving forward. I and the U.S. government and all of you I am sure were very glad to see that in all of these choices the political leaders of Northern Ireland choose the right path yet again. The path that we all believe now leaves Northern Ireland extremely well positioned to take advantage of the opportunity that lies ahead. I know that many people in this room worked extremely hard over the last several weeks and months to help make that outcome possible and I congratulate and thank you for your resilience and your belief in the same possibilities.  

Throughout this journey the United States has stood with the people of Northern Ireland every step of the way. Successive U.S. administrations and political leaders have supported the peace process and made clear that a lasting peace was a goal worth pursuing not only to end the hostility, but because by achieving devolution and a peaceful Northern Ireland, a new economic future could be made possible for all citizens of Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland has no greater friend than Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has been committed to helping the peace process through an economic platform.  Her belief that peace and prosperity work hand-in-hand, led to my appointment as Economic Envoy last September. She visited the region last October and has stood firm in her long-standing commitment to a lasting peace.  The Secretary spoke repeatedly with the parties to express the importance of reaching an agreement on the devolution of policing and justice. Secretary Clinton has vowed that the United States will continue working to help Northern Ireland reap the dividends of peace.  As I have said many times in public before, where there is certainty and stability, prosperity will follow. Our job now is to work together to help make that prosperity a reality.

I am glad to say that as we work together to promote economic development between the United States and Northern Ireland, several major initiatives are already underway. On the week of March 15th, First Minister Robinson and deputy First Minister McGuinness will travel with me to Chicago, New York City and Washington D.C. where they will meet with President Obama at the White House and also have discussions with Secretary Clinton and myself on how we can now work together to do even more to promote Northern Ireland's economy. There will also be meetings with major U.S. corporations and large scale events all designed to help Northern Ireland fully grasp this momentous opportunity.

I took this job because I care deeply about Northern Ireland and its future, but also because I truly believe Northern Ireland is one of the places in the world that is best positioned to take advantage of the current political and economic climate, in a way that will enable it to grow and to compete with the very best.

The world today is filled with economic and political uncertainty, but remember that it is also filled with massive opportunity.

In terms of economic development, there are several trends that will drive innovation and economic growth for years to come.  They are predominantly in healthcare, renewable energy, technology and financial services. This is very good news for Northern Ireland because it is ahead of the trend curve in all four areas:

North America will spend an estimated 15.5% of its GDP on healthcare this year - It is estimated that Western Europe will spend 12.2%. With an aging global population, these numbers will continue to rise and the demand for innovative healthcare solutions will grow even more profoundly. Northern Ireland has the universities, and skilled workforce to be a leader in many specific medical fields including connected health and personalized medicine. We are working with Queen's University, Almac, and Invest NI to plan an event in Washington D.C. during St. Patrick's week showcasing the important research the company is doing.

Renewable Energy
With respect to renewable energy, in the future - developed nations will face two major issues, how to deal with increased energy demand from emerging economies and how to handle the environmental impact of fossil fuels. More immediately, in the wake of the financial crisis, by some accounts up to 15% of global stimulus spending has been allocated to renewable energy projects - this spending opens a huge opportunity for Northern Ireland and the several companies already focused on becoming leaders in the renewable energy space.

Technology and Telecommunications
Technology and telecommunications generally represent one of the best growth opportunities for Northern Ireland over the next decade, in my opinion. With its existing excellent telecom infrastructure and the fact that it is already ahead of the game with initiatives like project Kelvin, there is every reason to expect Northern Ireland can profit more than most from what is happening in this sector. An average of 80 out of every 100 people in the world has a mobile phone. There will be over 530 million broadband subscribers in the world this year. In North America, 974 out of every 1,000 people are expected to own a PC this year. In Western Europe it will be 688 out of every 1000. Northern Ireland has an established track record of attracting foreign investment from technology companies and the region is well known for its expertise in software development so now is a moment of great opportunity for those companies to take advantage of what's going on in the world today.

Financial Services
Financial services will continue to be a very important sector for Northern Ireland's future growth. The region has already attracted many prominent companies including NYSE Technologies which added over 400 new jobs last year. In the wake of the financial crisis, as financial services firms consider new strategies, there are now new opportunities to attract business to the region

To be competitive in the global economy a region must develop strengths in these specific sectors - by using a collaborative approach that can leverage the synergies of science, academia, business and other fields, Northern Ireland  has the potential to become one of the world's fastest growing economies on a per capita basis.

Now is the time to focus on the work ahead. And, with the help of several partners, we are hard at work to help promote investment and trade between the United States and Northern Ireland.  

One of our first initiatives was to set up a bi-lateral Working Group to advise and support me in this mission - one group made up of 22 leading business figures from the U.S. and one in Northern Ireland with 15 senior business leaders.  Between these two groups, the members run businesses worth tens of billions of dollars and have expertise spanning the spectrum of multiple industries.  

The ultimate goal is to help foster initiatives leading to long-term and short-term results that provide mutual benefit to the economies of both Northern Ireland and the United States. To accomplish this, work is underway in many areas to increase visibility and awareness of Northern Ireland as a world-class business location.

The strategy is being implemented using a dual track approach; a Momentum Track and a Leadership Track.

The Momentum Track, is designed to develop and leverage a wide range of initiatives in the short term, which will help shine a light on Northern Ireland and showcase all the region offers with regard to foreign direct investment and trade. This is being done through a variety of means including ongoing site visits, trade missions, road shows, special events, and media opportunities.  

On one day alone last December, a roundtable between Enterprise Minister Foster, Invest NI, myself and over a dozen major companies, many from the fortune 500, took place in New York.  The nine publicly traded companies at the meeting had an aggregate market capitalization in excess of $575B and revenues of more than $200B. We are confident that these discussions have the potential for significant investment in Northern Ireland.

To increase trade, we are also working with both U.S. and Northern Ireland companies on export and procurement matters on a daily basis.

During St. Patrick's week, we will help lead an economic mission to the U.S. with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister and Minister Arlene Foster in three key U.S. cities namely Chicago, New York and Washington D.C. to highlight Northern Ireland to potential trade partners and investors. This mission will include meetings with major U.S. corporations and several large scale events all focused solely on Northern Ireland. The week will also include a concurrent strategic mission, with up to 20 Northern Ireland companies attending meetings in the U.S. to open up potential new business partnerships.

Those companies will be drawn from throughout Northern Ireland, and I think this is an important point, because in our work we are very focused on making sure that every time I come to Northern Ireland I visit a different part of the region and I am very focused on making sure that any initiatives we are able to get underway are spread appropriately throughout.

There are plenty more opportunities to spread Northern Ireland's message, and I intend to utilize them all and create many more if possible.  In the U.S. there is a real sense that the momentum is with Northern Ireland.  The Government and Invest Northern Ireland have created close to 1,000 jobs from outside companies, including U.S companies in the last four months alone. The U.S. is paying attention. Now is the perfect moment to harvest what you have sown.

However we also need to be vigilant. In the past several weeks we have seen, even on the same day that good news was announced with regard to new jobs for Northern Ireland, potential job losses were on the horizon elsewhere in the region. This is the reality we are living with today in every country and region in the world and it is not unique to Northern Ireland alone. Even notwithstanding the higher relative percentages of public sector employment in Northern Ireland, the region is doing extremely well on a per capita basis in attracting foreign direct investment and creating jobs that have long term sustainable potential.   

The second part of our twin-track approach is the Leadership Track. This is a longer-term approach focused on planning and implementing projects that can be developed and grown over time.  Key initiatives include the promotion of micro clusters, centers of excellence, mentorship programs, advisory boards, indigenous development, and other long-term development strategies all designed to leave a lasting impact on the region.

Northern Ireland has already recognized that building niche expertise in micro clusters like connected health, renewable energy, life sciences and creative media offer tremendous growth potential for the future.

In the area of healthcare, the Oncology Hub created at Queens University Belfast is a world-class research and development facility conducting extraordinary work in the area of Personalized Medicine. I will be visiting the Queens University Belfast Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology later this afternoon.

The European Connected Health Campus is leading the way in terms of 21st century preparedness for remote access patient care, which without any doubt is going to become part of our future reality.  

A very active film industry opportunity is also developing. This includes not only filming and production, but also software development. Hollywood veterans - now back in Belfast - are working virtually from Northern Ireland on academy award nominated films, and that is just one example.

I am also focused on indigenous development and specifically on capital accessibility and workforce development to help promote the growth of Northern Ireland enterprises. Northern Ireland is home to over 66,000 small entrepreneurial companies, each with 20 employees or less. It is vital for Northern Ireland's future economic growth to focus on developing programs and models that support small business because this is the engine that can and will ensure that the local economy is able to drive itself forward.

I believe for example, Northern Ireland, can develop a center of excellence in microfinance, as I have said, to help support the region's small businesses by providing new means of access to credit. This is just one of many opportunities for Northern Ireland to promote local development.

The Northern Ireland Science Park - through its NISP Connect program -is creating collaborative opportunities for start-up technology companies through mentorship and advisory boards.  We are working very hard to support them in their efforts through some form of transatlantic endowment initiative that reflects the core value set of Steve Orr and his colleagues at the Science Park and we hope to make further progress on this in the not too distant future.

The establishment of a renewable energy incubation center in Limavady is also being explored by a member of the Working Group Richard Hogg. The center would work in conjunction with local universities, and provide space for innovative startup companies to design the renewable energy projects that can help make Northern Ireland a world leader, and I believe Richard and everyone like him is worthy of all our support to ensure that their dreams become a reality.

The final focus of the leadership track is to develop lasting linkages between the United States and Northern Ireland. These linkages provide a two-way street for the exchange of commerce, trade, technology and culture.  We are working across multiple industries and partnerships to help foster these linkages in as many ways as possible.

As we continue to execute our plan with the Working Group and other partners, you will not always hear or read about the work we are doing, but that is not important. The truth is we are trying to do dozens of things every day to advance the mission. By adopting the two-track plan we are aiming to balance short term initiatives with long term projects that will take time, but we believe will be very valuable in terms of Northern Ireland's future.

For the past two days, you have discussed in great detail the most appropriate steps to be taken for economic recovery. In the midst of these challenging economic times the good news is that Northern Ireland has already made one important choice. The more important news is that it faces another one now:  how quickly does it want to recover?

Throughout history, during times of chaos or crisis, entrepreneurs and innovators have benefitted and taken advantage of similar opportunities to create new businesses.  I believe we are living in the middle of such an opportunity right now and I believe that if the right steps are taken, by all of us working together, we can exploit that opportunity for Northern Ireland's advantage like never before.

Recovery will come by taking advantage of this moment to create long-term sustainable development through supporting innovative, entrepreneurial companies in the sectors that will drive the global economy in the future.   

With regard to the global economy, there have been signs of recovery:  The Dow Jones Industrial average has recovered from a low of around 6,500 last March to around 10,000 a year later. Global GDP, which declined by 2.2% in 2009 is expected to grow 2.7% this year. Global trade, which fell by over 14% last year, is expected to grow 4.3% this year. The corporate profits of the S&P 500 are by some estimates expected to grow by 29% in 2010. So, while situation remains volatile, the world economy, like Northern Ireland itself, is moving in the right direction.

Regardless of what is being reported, it is up to each one of us to take the future into our own hands and make this recovery happen. Northern Ireland is already well positioned for this new reality we live in and by focusing on specific sectors and building the foundations for long term economic growth; it can achieve true and lasting economic prosperity.

Northern Ireland at this time is all about the future. The future is now.  Why do I believe this?  Because of the advantages you have as an economy. A highly educated, skilled, and English speaking workforce, superb telecommunications infrastructure, close proximity to Europe and the United States, a low cost operating environment and much, much  more.
To use a sporting analogy, you are in injury time and you have the opportunity to put the ball in the back of the net. This is the moment right now, to score the goal.

Franklin Roosevelt once said "The only limit to our realization of tomorrow is our doubts of today." There should be no doubt about the opportunities that now exist  for Northern Ireland, and we should go forward with confidence and belief  in the fact that, for Northern Ireland, the time really and truly is now. Let's make sure we can continue working hard together to bring that opportunity sharply into focus for all to see. Thank you.

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