Talks over Pennsylvania expansion potential for local firms
Business representatives from Pennsylvania have said there could be major opportunities for Derry-based businesses to expand into what has become one of the world's largest economies.
Talks have also been taking place around partnership work with Ulster University about trans-Atlantic collaboration.
Joseph Burke, Deputy Secretary for International Business Development at the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development, and Richard Kilner, Managing Director, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania European Investment Office, delivered a presentation on potential investment at a Council meeting on Tuesday.
Addressing Derry & Strabane Council’s Business & Culture Committee, Mr Burke said they saw “a lot of opportunity on the island of Ireland north and south”.
He elaborated that their work centred on attracting business investment into Pennsylvania - the 19th largest economy in the world- and growing the export market.
He said that one of the biggest business opportunities in the state revolved around the shale gas natural resources located there and said that fracking has been ongoing for the past 10 years amid tight regulations.
Mr Burke said that this was “creating a new renaissance in Pennsylvania manufacturing”.
Other major industries in the State include life sciences, agribusiness and pharmaceutical manufacturing, mirroring some of the biggest employment sectors in Ireland.
At present there are 13 businesses from the north of Ireland operating in Pennsylvania, including Almac and Primark, as well as many others from the south.
There are now opportunities, Mr Burke said, for joint international ventures.
He said that engagement with Derry & Strabane Council has been ongoing since October, with plans to strengthen ties between the two regions.
“We see that a strong relationship could be built,” he said, and spoke of the potential for a ‘sister city’ agreement.
Committee chair, SDLP Councillor Shauna Cusack described the presentation as “very thought provoking” and said the Pennsylvania delegation “have a lot to shout about”.
She also posed the questions: “What is it we an offer you? What are you looking for that can make it mutually beneficial?”
Mr Burke responded that they were seeking opportunities for business and economic expansion that would provide a “win win” for both regions.
Sinn Fein Councillor Mickey Cooper said that formalising a mutually beneficial relationship was now “key”, and said there were opportunities for local businesses and the tourism sector to tap into a whole new market.
“In many ways there is an open door we can exploit as much as possible,” Colr. Cooper said. “This is opening up opportunities for other organisations- the local university here is very much based on research work, and very much dependant on EU funding, and that’s going to be a problem as well.
“We think there is a lot of untapped potential here.”
SDLP Councillor John Boyle said it was “encouraging” that the Pennsylvania representatives were considering that “companies in our part of the world can be of use in what is obviously a very strong and vibrant economy in Pennsylvania”.
“We have many talented individuals in this part of the world. One of our problems is we export people,” Colr. Boyle said, adding it would be better if the region was exporting knowledge and trade.
“If your door is open we will be more than happy to facilitate companies from here expanding their business and their presence in Pennsylvania. What we are effectively opening up is that entire area,” he said.
UUP Councillor Derek Hussey said that the research and development potential in conjunction with Magee and the North West Regional College was of particular interest.
Mr Burke said he has met with the Ulster University representatives on several occasions, including in San Diego and Chicago.
“On the life science front I think there’s a lot of synergy,” he said. “The desire is to continue that conversation.”