Bill Clinton, Enda Kenny and more at Invest in Ireland Forum

President Bill Clinton, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore at the Invest in Ireland Forum in New York. Photo by James Higgins.

February 14, 2012

Ireland is open for business and the diaspora will be key in its economic recovery.

Staying true to a proposal he made last October at the second Global Irish Economic Forum in Dublin, former president Bill Clinton brought close to two dozen of America’s highest ranking CEOs and key corporate players together for a roundtable discussion on investing in Ireland, held in New York on Thursday, February 9. Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and Minister for Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation Richard Bruton traveled to New York for the roundtable, which took place as part of a larger Invest in Ireland Forum hosted by New York University.

The prevailing message of the day was that, in spite the considerable obstacles it continues to face, Ireland is very much open for business and is now looking to the Irish diaspora to weigh in on and aid in its recovery.

The roundtable, held in the morning, was closed to all but those invited. Though the list of participants was not released, it has been widely speculated that those in attendance included Bank of America’s Brian Moynihan; Donald Keough, former president and COO of Coca-Cola and chairman of Allen & Company; Wilbur Ross, the famed private equity investor who invested $1.5 billion in the Bank of Ireland; Rich Ross, the chairman of Walt Disney Studios, and Robert Rubin, the former head of Citigroup and former treasury secretary.

Following the roundtable, President Clinton joined the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister for Jobs on stage to address members of the Global Irish Network and the press.

A powerful champion of Irish causes ever since his key role in the Northern Ireland peace process, President Clinton spoke persuasively of of the advantages U.S. business owners would enjoy in bringing their companies to Ireland.

“You’d have to be nuts not to take advantage of the unique investment opportunity presented by one of the most business-friendly countries in the world, with the youngest, best-educated workforce in Europe and an unemployment pool of 14 percent,” he said.

“The Irish government will do its job on the public finances, but others must step up to the plate to help on the jobs front,” he continued, specifically addressing the Irish diaspora in America with the comment
“Irish America is well placed to help Ireland beat the law of averages.”

He emphasized that “Now is the time to invest in Ireland, where property is a steal, you’ve got the best educated workforce and everybody is all dressed up with no place to go.”

In addition to lauding Ireland’s young, capable, and under-employed work force, the former president also spoke of Ireland as the ideal gateway for conducting business with the rest of Europe and with rapidly-developing African nations.

Following Clinton’s departure, the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister Bruton fielded questions moderated by Bloomberg News InBusiness anchor Margaret Brennan.

Their overall emphasis on how Ireland would proceed in the coming months and years centered on pragmatism and steadiness – not on returning to the levels seen at the height of the Celtic Tiger, but to the “sustainable, disciplined and innovation-driven economic model” of the late ’90s, the Tánaiste said.

Though all who spoke acknowledged the challenges that lie ahead, the general mood was decidedly optimistic. In his appeal to American corporations and business owners, Taoiseach Kenny gave Ireland’s current situation a positive spin: “Whether you are part of a company that already has investment or operations in Ireland, or is considering it, or maybe hasn’t even got to that stage – yet – I want to give you one loud, clear, message: Ireland is open for business. And there might never be a better time to take advantage of it.”

He gave the numbers of the key businesses that already have operations in Ireland, which include  80% of the top global banks, 9 of the top 10 pharmaceutical companies, and 8 of the top 10 technology companies in the world, and added that the country has been “increasingly the location of choice in Europe for new economy, ‘born-on-the-internet’ companies, such as Google, Twitter and Pay-pal.”

Speaking to the qualities that he believes make Ireland such attractive, fertile ground for international business, he listed “our underlying national traits as a people and a nation, together with the tough but necessary adjustments we are making to our economy and our operating environment,” and, echoing President Clinton, lauded “the quality of our workforce, the business-friendly environment, the ease of access to European and wider markets [and] the quality of life for ex-pats and other employees.”

Looking towards the less immediate future, the Taoiseach touched upon the coming centennial of the 1916 Rising as the target date for seeing many of his and his administration’s goals come to fruition.

“I want Ireland to be the best small country in the world in which to do business by 2016. I want it to be the best small country in which to raise a family, to study, to work and to grow old,” he said.

Minister Bruton highlighted the importance of action in addition to discussion. Accordingly. the Taoiseach named a number of new initiatives that he and his ministers would seek to put into effect, including an assessment and training program for the unemployed called Pathways to Work, and Succeed in Ireland, a project that will grant a special job creator fee to those who generate new jobs in Ireland. The target result of these actions, in conjunction with the jobs and investment-related items in the 2012 Finance Bill, published the day before the forum, would, he said, be 100,000 new jobs created over the next five years.

Tánaiste Gilmore commented that the roundtable had “provided an invaluable opportunity for the Government to make our case to a number of major US corporations who do not yet have significant investments in Ireland.”

Citing increases in exports and tourism as indicators of positive growth, he delved further into the measures that Ireland plans to take to rebuild both its economy and its international reputation, including changes to Ireland’s visa program to facilitate greater ease in establishing new businesses, governmental support for small and medium-sized enterprises, a Davos for the arts-style World Actors Forum to be held in Dublin, and The Gathering, a year-long tourism campaign for 2013 to be geared specifically towards member of the Irish diaspora.

Returning to the over-arching theme of the forum, the Tánaiste said that important help would be needed from the 70 million people worldwide with a strong connection to Ireland.

His suggestion that with the support of the diaspora “Ireland will be the recovery story of Europe,” was met with enthusiastic applause.

More Photos from the Invest in Ireland Forum:

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