Jim Gaffey with Irish president Mary McAleese during a 2007 visit to Atlanta.

Ireland is officially headed for Atlanta, with the recent announcement that it will open a consulate here.

Actually, the Irish have been here almost since the creation of Terminus (later renamed Atlanta).  The Irish worked the railroads and had migrated up through Georgia from Savannah. One can trace their steps through the names of Georgia towns like Fitzgerald and Dublin.

Once in Atlanta, they had immediate positive impact and once held most of the seats on City Council. They stood shoulder to shoulder and saved a small enclave which included five downtown churches, many homes and City Hall from the onslaught of Gen. William T. Sherman’s Union army. 

It may be surprising to see an Irish consulate here considering that Atlanta is only ranked 39th among U.S. cities in the number of Irish citizens. However, the Irish community here has learned to box above its weight by focusing on those things which the island of Ireland is most interested in such as trade. There have been eight Irish trade missions to Atlanta since 2004.  There have been three trade missions from Georgia to Ireland.

Ireland, like the rest of the world, has been impacted by the credit crisis. However, the country has matured into a knowledge-based society, largely through an almost manic focus on education. While near paralysis seems to have settled in across much of the world, the Irish expect to emerge from the economic crisis in better shape than most countries.

Google Inc., Facebook and many of the other leading high-tech companies are basing their European operations there. Many other  knowledge-based companies are heading to Dublin, Belfast and lesser-known mini-hubs on the island.

A Northern Ireland wireless company, TotalMobile USA Inc., coming out of this incubator environment, is blazing the trail here as evidenced by the national partnership it  struck with Atlanta-based AT&T Mobility Inc., which I arranged. Three other Northern Ireland companies have recently been visiting our market.

Ireland has the most e-commerce-friendly regulatory environment in Europe. Ireland is the 12th largest exporter to the U.S., greater than Brazil or India.

Atlanta and the larger Southeast business community are well suited to welcome and host this major commitment on the part of its strong trade partner, Ireland. Let’s turn this into opportunity for our business and cultural communities.

Jim Gaffey of Atlanta is president of The Gaffey Group, an international trade consultancy. E-mail him at jfgaffey@bellsouth.net or call at (770) 448-0685.