On Friday, I and many others from Northern Ireland will join with the US Consul General in Belfast to mark the 246th anniversary of American Independence.
Across the UK we often talk about the ‘special relationship’ with the US, but nowhere is that more evident than right here in Northern Ireland. From Presidents and artists, to industrial leaders and academics, many famous figures, past and present, can claim Northern Ireland heritage.
That sense of partnership and camaraderie is true not only in the past, but in the present and into the future too as we build the political, cultural and economic ties between our two countries.
Each year, my Department offers students from Northern Ireland the opportunity to participate in the Study USA programme, spending a year studying business or STEM-related subjects in American colleges. Over 2,000 students have benefited from this programme since 1994, and over that time
we are also seeing an increasing number of students from the other side of the Atlantic choosing to study here in Northern Ireland.
The US also continues to be our largest source of high-value, technology-rich FDI, having generated nearly 13,000 jobs and £1.5billion worth of investment in the last decade with companies such as Seagate, Allstate, Aflac and Microsoft establishing themselves here.
Over the course of 2022 we have already announced an investment from North Carolina semiconductor company Wolfspeed and a major R&D partnership between Queen’s University Belfast and Silicon Valley technology company NVIDIA; investments which not only support high-wage employment but also diffuse knowledge, technology and a global outlook.
Earlier this year I visited New York, Maryland and Washington DC to pitch my ambitious plans for our economy in Northern Ireland. I met with local office holders, influencers and potential new investors to explore new ways to benefit trade relations between our two countries.
On the milestone of its centenary, Northern Ireland is changing and transforming itself faster than anyone could have imagined. An important part of that is our 10X Economic Vision, an ambitious strategy to drive innovation, inclusive growth and bring opportunities to people here from every background in every community. 10X identifies what makes Northern Ireland unique and sets us apart from the crowd, building on our core strengths and capabilities across a range of technologies.
We are investing in some of the most important future-looking sectors: life and health sciences, the digital and creative industries, AI, advanced manufacturing and agricultural innovation – and we are doing so on a collaborative basis.
My Department provides up to £2m each year to support our world class universities’ participation in the US-Ireland Research and Development Partnership. Through the Partnership, the Department works with the Governments of the USA and the Irish Republic to co-fund leading edge, fully collaborative, internationally peer reviewed research between universities in the three jurisdictions.
I am determined that Department for the Economy funding is focused on supporting research in the prioritised thematic areas of sensors, nanotechnology, telecommunications, energy and sustainability, and cybersecurity. Since the Partnership’s inception in 2006, we have supported 55
projects across these sectors, representing a total investment of approximately £16.5m. The Partnership plays a key role in contributing to the delivery of my 10X Vision, which recognises the importance of innovation and international collaboration in driving both economic impact and social advancement.
Moreover, upcoming City & Growth Deals will put £1.3b worth of investment into all regions of Northern Ireland, increasing our investment and R&D capabilities in the innovation industries of the future. Northern Ireland is too small to shape global trends but we are agile enough to exploit them for our commercial and economic benefit.
The clusters of talent that are emerging, growing, innovating and turning bright ideas into successful businesses in Northern Ireland today are clusters that stretch across the Atlantic into many different parts of the United States. In addition, as Northern Ireland continues to grow and evolve it is this kind of transformation that is drawing the attention of investors across the globe and in the US – in the last five years we have supported more than 100 US-headquartered businesses to establish new operations in Northern Ireland.
A good example of our evolution and growth is the success of our screen industries in attracting investment for a string of large-scale projects over the past decade, most recently for The Northman, The School for Good and Evil and Dungeons & Dragons. These projects raise our international profile and bring in significant amounts of investment with each production.
Despite the pandemic, our investment pipeline remains strong. I regularly talk to prospective US investors across a range of sectors who have heard about the exciting investment proposition we can offer. Our skilled workforce, supportive business environment and ability to collaborate across government, academia and business sets us apart.
Now that markets are opening again I am confident that there are further opportunities for local companies to tap into the US market as well as for those US companies looking to establish a base here.
I truly value the importance of that relationship, and trust that we can continue to ensure our friends in the US continue to visit, invest and work right here in Northern Ireland.