The discovery of an Atlanta connection to poet Seamus Heaney, a native of Northern Ireland who won the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature Oct. 6 and has lectured at Emory University, was just another fortuitous development for Joseph Burke, who became the Southeastern representative for the Industrial Development Board for Northern Ireland in April.
Mr. Burke is heading what he calls a “discreet strategic marketing campaign” to promote Northern Ireland’s strengths as a location for investment and to correct the perception that it remains a combat zone now that peace has gained the upper hand after decades of religious strife.
While his goal is to interest companies in Northern Ireland, he knows that tax incentives alone aren’t enough, and that the country’s cultural heritage, including its poets, can be a definite plus. Less than a year in the job, he said that he has some 20 companies from the Southeast seriously considering investments in Northern Ireland, and cited Holiday Inn’s recent announcement of expansion there as proof of the growing interest in the formerly embattled area.
Mr. Burke also is getting a little help from Northern Ireland’s nobility. Two days after the Nobel prize announcement, he hosted here Northern Ireland’s only duke, the Duke of Abercorn, who introduced himself by his name, James Hamilton, rather than by his title.
During the visit, the IDB sponsored the opening of an exhibit at the High Museum of Art of the works of contemporary Irish-American painter Sean Scully. In addition, the Duke met with officials from half a dozen local companies interested in investing in Northern Ireland, and he promoted the Laganside Corp., a commercial redevelopment project on the banks of the River Lagan in the city center of Belfast, of which he is chairman.
In mid-September, Northern Ireland’s Minister of the Economy, Baroness Jean Denton, visited Atlanta. Besides attending the opening of Northern Ireland-based Lowe Refrigeration’s facility in Fayetteville, she visited local companies and attended the annual meeting of the International Women’s Forum in Atlanta in her capacity as the founder of the forum’s U.K. chapter.
The baroness’ visit to Atlanta provided the occasion for Holiday Inn CEO Bryan Langton to announce, much to her pleasure, the opening of several inns in Northern Ireland. And she encouraged others to expand their facilities there, citing improving manufacturing output figures (up 7.2% for the first quarter of 1995 in comparison to the year before) and the lowest unemployment level in 13 years (11.7% in July).
She also pointed with relish to the substantial increase in the number of tourists visiting Northern Ireland.
Mr. Burke may be reached by calling the IDB of Northern Ireland at (404) 892-3972; fax (404) 892-3952.