RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – The Research Triangle Regional Partnership (RTRP) hosted Irish investment group Enterprise Ireland and Irish Ambassador Daniel Mulhall recently for an in-depth tour of the area, primarily focused on the growing Ag-Tech cluster in North Carolina – a robust business environment that closely mirrors Ireland’s own evolving 21st-century economy.
As its economy grew by 7.8 percent of GDP last year and is set to grow by another 4 percent in 2018, Ireland is on track to remain the fastest growing economy in the European Union for the fourth year in a row. Similar to North Carolina, much of Ireland’s recent rapid rise can be attributed to enormous investment and growth in the many facets of the tech sector – pharmaceuticals, bio-medicine, software development. However, much of the current business infrastructure in both countries can be traced to a shared past of economies built on agriculture and innovations surrounding these historic roots.
RTRP Executive Director Ryan Combs, in remarks during a tour stop at Durham’s American Tobacco Campus, drew comparisons to agriculture industry statistics regarding workforce numbers and key crop and livestock exports that anchor the respective multi-billion dollar agriculture markets. Just as North Carolina is the largest sweet potato exporter in the United States, Ireland’s agriculture economy primarily centers around beef and dairy products, and is the largest beef supplier in Europe.
However, Combs also noted the strides being made on both fronts in response to shifting resources and investments that seek to build upon each region’s unique potential to marry an agricultural past with the technological advances of the future. “While we both continue to take tremendous pride in our ag heritage, over the last 20 years we have both transformed ourselves into a tech and life science hub,” said Combs.
And bound by the Triangle’s universities and their world-class research centers, medical schools and agriculture hubs on all sides, Ambassador Mulhall echoed the sense that North Carolina and Ireland do indeed share a “global-mindedness” in this transformation process, largely based on similar demographics and attitudes.
In an interview with the North State Journal during his visit – his first to the state – Mulhall noted that emerging markets in both places rely on an effort to “equalize development between rural and metro areas.” He stated that investments in education and consistent pro-business government policies exhibit an emphasis on economic development, and have worked, along with Ireland’s competitive 12.5 percent corporate tax rate, to create sustained growth.
Mulhall’s visit included meetings with North Carolina dignitaries as well as tours of local tech giants IQVIA (formerly Quintiles) and SAS, among others. He said that in the years ahead, he is hopeful for the further development of ties with North Carolina as both economies continue to innovate throughout historically agricultural areas as well as growing urban centers.
Combs will lead an RTRP delegation to Ireland in November, including Bill Bullock, with N.C. Biotech Center, Dean Rich Linton, from N.C. State College of Ag and Life Sciences, and Kaleb Rathbone with N.C. Dept. of Agriculture, to pursue the mission of “building relationships with Irish universities, government organizations, and Irish businesses who are looking at international markets.”