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Ireland seeks stronger business ties with Western Pennsylvania

| Thursday, March 20, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Ireland government minister Denny McGinley has a message for Pennsylvania companies: “Ireland is back in business!”

McGinley attended a gathering hosted by the Ireland Institute of Pittsburgh on Wednesday, looking to build on longtime business ties with Pennsylvania. The minister's trip is part of an American tour to raise awareness that his country is once again ripe with opportunities after several years of economic decline that nearly led to bankruptcy.

“We want to strengthen and expand the trade between us, to both of our advantages,” said McGinley, the country's minister of state for the Gaeltacht, or Irish-speaking region. “We went through a difficult time … but we can now after five years go back to the international money markets again and get whatever we require at favorable interest rates.”

Ireland's economy expanded 1.5 percent in the third quarter of last year. Employment is steadily climbing, particularly as it manages to lure multinational companies such as Google Inc., Facebook and Twitter, the latest social media giant to open a European headquarters in Dublin.

The country's improving economy means more trade and investing opportunities. And it is looking at Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh area with its strong Irish connections.

Ireland is Pennsylvania's 14th-biggest export market, with about $550 million in exports last year, mainly in chemicals, pharmaceuticals and fertilizer. The state is a big consumer of Irish goods: $811 million in 2013, according the state Department of Community and Economic Development, with pharmaceutical products topping the list around $432 million. Imports from Ireland also include medical devices, organic chemicals and essential oils.

“Ireland has a lot of entrepreneurship and sees (Pennsylvania) as a welcoming environment,” said Joseph Burke, international marketing executive at the Department of Community and Economic Development.

The Ireland Institute of Pittsburgh, established in December, works to bring young people to Pittsburgh from Ireland and Northern Ireland for job training and other professional development skills. It is sponsoring a trade mission to Ireland in August in conjunction with a Penn State vs. University of Central Florida football game in Dublin.

“We realized that we would be helping that population by working to create jobs in Ireland,” said Jim Lamb, president of the institute. “We started connecting Irish companies and Pittsburgh companies to develop partnerships so that jobs could be created in Ireland as well as Pittsburgh.”

There are 154 companies with Ireland connections in Pennsylvania providing about 6,980 jobs — mostly in manufacturing, according the Department of Community and Economic Development.

In Pittsburgh, the Irish connection goes beyond business. Nearly 11 percent of Pittsburgh residents claim some Irish blood, according to the census bureau, making it home to the ninth-largest population of residents listing Irish as their primary ancestry.

The state provides grants to help small- to medium-size companies looking for trade opportunities with countries such as Ireland. The money can be used to offset a portion of expenses associated with export promotion activities, including the trade mission to Ireland the week of the Croke Park Classic football game.

The trade mission is scheduled from Aug. 22-31, with the Penn State game set for Aug. 30. The Irish government will host an international economic forum on August 28.

Vivian Salama is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7920 or vsalama@tribweb.com.

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