Posted on Tuesday 19 January 2010 by Ulster Business

Declan Kelly

Declan Kelly - US Economic Envoy to Northern Ireland, Declan Kelly (right) with First Minister, Peter Robinson and US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Leaders in Business - The flow of US investment into Northern Ireland over the last few years through the likes of Citigroup and the New York Stock Exchange has been one of the main catalysts helping drive the local economy forward. Declan Kelly has been charged with attracting more US businesses to these shores and here tells Symon Ross of how he plans to go about it.

One of the key appointments affecting Northern Ireland in 2009 was that of US special economic envoy Declan Kelly. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tasked the Co. Tipperary man with fostering trade and investment links between America and the province, a move which is significant because the US does not have a special envoy solely focused on the economy in any other country in the world. Since his appointment on September 11, Kelly has been busy educating himself about the local business landscape, meeting key business leaders and creating high powered working groups on both sides of the Atlantic to develop practical ways to bring NI to the attention of the US business community and to create opportunities for local firms in the States. Working with Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster, Invest Northern Ireland and the Government, Kelly says the work is already paying dividends. In November, the Minister visited New York where, among various receptions and presentations, she also held a meeting with 15 different companies, the majority of which were in the Fortune 500. “The value of the companies in the room was close to half a trillion dollars. These are very serious businesses and to be able to collaborate to get that number of companies involved and to have a serious dialogue with them to a point where some of them are interested in direct follow up was a significant step forward in our work together,” says Kelly. “I think we’re pleased with the way we are progressing, we’re pleased with the number of engagements we’re getting and I think we are gaining traction. In America a lot of people are paying attention to what we’re doing.” After graduating from NUI Galway and starting his career as a journalist, Kelly moved into public relations becoming managing director of Financial Dynamics in the US, and then executive vice president of global consultancy firm FTI when it bought FD. Well known in US business and political circles (where he was an adviser to Mrs Clinton and serves on the board of philanthropic organisation the American Ireland Fund), Kelly freely admits he is utilising contacts made throughout his career to further his goals as US economic envoy. “I’ve been approaching this role in the same way I would approach it if I was still running a company and I’ve got the same criteria for what’s acceptable and what’s not,” he says. “The thing that has been most encouraging is the willingness of the people I’ve asked to get involved.They really do care about the outcome and they really do understand the connectivity between the peace dividend and economic progress.” In four months he believes a lot has been achieved in terms of putting in place near-term and long-term strategies for the working groups and sub groups, while he also played a key role in the US Secretary of State’s visit in October. Though he hopes to encourage more US firms to create jobs in Northern Ireland, he stresses that his job is not to duplicate what Invest NI already do. “I’m happy we’ve got things set up at the end of the year to be successful again in 2010,” says Kelly. “I’m very careful not to create any false expectations. There are considerable economic difficulties out there in the world and companies make decisions based on the merits of anyone’s individual proposal. I don’t have a magic wand but what I do have is the means to present objectively the characteristics that Northern Ireland has and to tell people why it’s worth their time to consider.” Kelly notes that leaving aside the political situation of the last forty years, Northern Ireland’s economic characteristics – good ports and an airport with direct daily flights to the US, two world class universities, a low cost operating environment, 2,000 business graduates a year and a strong telecommunications infrastructure – are compelling to many US businessmen when laid against other locations. Those involved in the working groups are key to getting this message across, he says. “We are at the very beginning here. We have not even begun to explore the amount of opportunity that is out there.”

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