Posted on Tuesday 21 August 2012 by Ulster Business

US Consul

US Consul Gregory Burton with Almac CEO Alan Armstrong on a recent visit.

The new US Consul General in Belfast, Gregory Burton, outlines why the close relationship between Northern Ireland and the US will continue to benefit both economies

In my first few weeks as US Consul General in Belfast I have enjoyed learning more about the profound contribution that early pioneers from these shores played in the establishment of the United States.

One example of this can be traced to a small cottage at the Ulster American Folk Park in County Tyrone built by Andrew Mellon and his brother Archie. Andrew’s son, Thomas, was born in these humble surroundings before his family sailed west, settling in the aptly named town of ‘Poverty Point’ in my home State of Pennsylvania.

Mellon’s great hero was Benjamin Franklin. As a child he read Franklin’s autobiography and was deeply influenced by his rags-to-riches story. Thomas Mellon would go on to become a lawyer, a judge, a founder of the Mellon Bank, and one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the history of the State.

Pennsylvania is proud of its entrepreneurial spirit, a characteristic helped in no small part by the inspiration of people like Thomas Mellon. The State is now the 19th largest economy in the world, boasting advanced infrastructure, a critical mass of academic and research institutions, and a vibrant business community.

One of my first outreach visits in Northern Ireland was to a local firm that contributes greatly to the present-day economy of Pennsylvania. Almac, headquartered in County Armagh, established a North American base in 1997. It has expanded its operations in the region ever since, where it now employs over a thousand people. My visit coincided with an announcement of an exciting new commercial packaging facility that will help service Almac’s customers across North America. US jobs have been created to package cutting-edge pharmaceutical products developed and manufactured right here in Northern Ireland.

It’s well documented that the United States remains the biggest foreign investor here. Over the last decade, US firms have generated over 7,400 jobs and brought more than £300m into the economy through foreign direct investment. Yet, examples like Almac demonstrate the reality that our trading links work both ways.

No-one would deny that these are challenging times for those in businesses who seek to capitalize on international opportunities. Yet, as President Obama said in his last State of the Union address, reinventing ourselves is what Americans have done for more than 200 years. I can think of few other regions than Northern Ireland that best demonstrate that very same spirit of renewal, resilience, and regeneration.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently stressed the need to get behind those who possessed “an idea, a dream, an invention or innovation, and the desire to work hard to make that a reality”. She understands that an interdependent, entrepreneurial spirit forms the bedrock of any economy, not just that of the United States. During her last visit to Northern Ireland, the Secretary pledged to maintain our economic engagement here by helping to support business-to-business collaborations and the genuine opportunities that these entailed.

As we explore new opportunities and mutually beneficial partnerships, we can take inspiration from the story of Thomas Mellon and the profound impact that he made in Pennsylvania and across the United States. Significantly, Mellon came close to losing his entire fortune in an economic depression late in the 19th Century. Yet, good decision-making and shrewd investments made him very well placed as economic recovery once again took hold. As I’ve discovered, local companies like Almac are building on this proud legacy and augmenting Northern Ireland’s impact overseas.

As I embark on my new position, I want to be an advocate for those in Northern Ireland who strengthen our commercial ties by exchanging goods, services, expertise, or capital. I also hope to support those at policy level who, like our own administration, have put continued economic growth at the very top of their stated agenda. Finally, I hope to engage with business leaders from the companies listed in this publication who, individually and collectively, play an instrumental role in the economic vitality of Northern Ireland.

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