Millions of pounds worth of US investment is primed and ready to be spent in the Province, almost exactly five years after it was first touted.
In what has been described as a “seismic” move, $15m from the state of New York has been put under the control of a Belfast-based fund manager, who will use it to buy shares in firms across the Province.
The news comes less than a month after the News Letter ran another story about the fund, first unveiled on March 16, 2009 by the First and Deputy First Ministers.
The article recorded renewed demands to know exactly what had become of the money, with SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone lambasting the First and Deputy First Ministers for a lack of clarity about what he called a “disappeared” fund.
He said that after five years: “The public deserve answers.”
Yesterday the New York State government announced that the money is now poised to be invested.
Colin Walsh of fund manager Crescent Capital, now in charge of the $15m, said: “I think it’s seismic,” adding it was the biggest investment of this particular type in the Province’s history.
“The firepower that gives us to invest in young businesses around here is tremendous, and that’s going to make a real difference (in terms of) economic impact here on the ground in Northern Ireland,” he said. “It’s a huge deal.”
The sealing of the deal came after long-term, behind-the-scenes discussions.
The cash stems from the New York State’s Emerging Europe Fund, which itself is financed by municipal workers’ pension money.
In 2009, $30m was said to be coming the Province’s way.
The $15m slice now unveiled (amounting to almost £9m) will be used by Crescent, based in the Botanic area of south Belfast, to buy shares in manufacturing and software firms, and more.
For example, Crescent had invested £400,000 in Andor in 1997, a high-tech Belfast firm which went on to sell for £176m last year.
“This will pay for more Andors,” Mr Walsh said.
It will be spread between up to around 20 firms, and if any businesses think they are candidates for the cash, he said they could call him.
As for the time taken to bring this first slice of investment cash to fruition, he said: “It wasn’t really asleep. They were looking for a suitable vehicle.
“They can’t really come on a plane and hand someone $15m in a bag, you know?”
He said it had been about finding a responsible way of channelling the money, adding: “They don’t make their mind up on those things in five minutes.”
Emerging Europe finally emerges
There had been criticism over the lack of visible progress on the Emerging Europe Fund, with claims the 2009 pledge of a $30m investment for Northern Ireland was little more than a burst of good publicity for the Executive’s top duo, without any tangible benefit to be seen.
Neither MLAs nor the News Letter were able to unearth answers to some key questions about it – until yesterday.