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President of Ireland pays visit to Seattle on trade mission

By Martina Law
February 2006

The Republic of Ireland is a member of numerous international organizations, including the United Nations and the European Union. For centuries the country was known as a rural backwater with no industrial base. Its economy languished in the early 80s and became stagnant in 1986.  

But just over the course of a few decades, Ireland has risen to be one of the world’s most successful high-tech economies. From 1996-2002 Ireland was the fastest-growing economy in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Although the 2003 world economic slowdown affected Ireland, and slowed down its GDP growth, its overall economic outlook continues to improve. Ireland has unleashed its “Celtic Tiger.” 

Last month, the Irish President Mary McAleese visited Seattle on a trade mission to promote her country. The trade mission particularly focused on Aerospace, Enterprise computing, and Telecoms.  

The European Weekly had a chance to talk to Marina Donohoe, the Executive Vice President, and Director of Americas for Enterprise Ireland, who accompanied the Irish president on her mission to Seattle.  

“There is a number of factors that contributed to the fact that our economy has been doing so well over the years,” Donohoe explains when asked what did ignite Ireland’s economic growth. “If you look at Ireland many years ago, it was an Ireland based on agriculture. Very quickly we realized that this was not going to result in prosperity of all Irish citizens. We started a number of high-level government interventions. We firstly invested in our people. We invested in our education system to really produce the output of graduates that could go into industry, science, research, and technology.” 

US investment has been important to the growth and modernization of the Irish industry over the past 25 years. “We have been very fortunate in attracting US companies such as Microsoft, IBM, Intel, and DELL, to name a few,” Donohoe says. Then she goes on, “US investment has also had an indirect effect on Ireland. It has provided great opportunities for Irish people to work in US companies in Ireland, and to learn skills and competencies that they may not have learned with an Irish company. Many of those people have gone on to set up their own companies or have gone on to work with an Irish indigenous base.”  

The US is Ireland’s second-largest export destination, second only to the UK. Donohoe tells the European Weekly that just last year alone, the US imported 27 billion dollars worth of goods and services from Ireland. A few of the export industries are engineering and components in the industrial area, and computer software in the technological area.  

In regards to import industries, Donohoe points out consumer goods. “The Irish consumer is very interested in buying American brands and products,” she says.  

When speaking specifically about trade between Washington State and Ireland, Donohoe states, “On our side, trade between Washington State and Ireland is a growing partnership. We do not have any Irish companies with offices in Seattle or in Washington State right now, but we expect that to change by the end of this year. This trade mission is very important to us in helping to build those business relationships with local Washington State companies.” 

One of the most successful relationships of Ireland has been with Microsoft. “Microsoft that is one of your largest companies is one of Ireland’s largest US investors,” Donohoe explains. “And this year, Microsoft is celebrating its 20th year in Ireland.” 

Donohoe is hopeful to form stronger partnerships with a number of other local companies, such as Boeing. “[At an event in Seattle hosted by Enterprise Ireland] the Irish president addressed a group of senior executives from Boeing and other local companies in this area. We are very keen to develop strong partnerships that are mutually beneficial for both Ireland and Washington State.” 

The European Weekly wanted to know why local companies should invest in Ireland? “They should invest in Ireland because it’s a very favorable tax environment, it’s an English speaking country, and we have a very skilled word force in terms of technical skills, research skills, and science skills,” she replies. “And it’s a gateway to Europe.” 

Donohoe also talks about the importance to reach out to the Irish and American community in the Seattle area. “We want to advise them of the changing [economic] landscape in Ireland. We want to advise them of the opportunity for them if they were to explore moving back to Ireland or working in Ireland.” 

Interestingly enough, Ireland has changed from initially being an emigration country into an immigration country. “These people are moving to Ireland from all corners of the world, including the United States. For instance, for the first time in our history, there are more business visa issued to US people working in Ireland than they have been for Irish people looking for work in the US,” she says. 

Donohoe explains that the trade mission to Seattle “is the largest trade mission of its kind in the US, the largest to the Seattle area.” 

And she adds, “We are very excited about the potential.”

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