I knf courw you don’t pay big bucks for this weekly epistle to hear about Boston rather than Belfast but a red-letter day for our sister city this week has some important lessons for Béal Feirste Cois Cuain.
On Thursday news broke that Boston had won a 40-city search by America’s biggest industrial company GE for its new headquarters. And the highly-prized 800 jobs aren’t going to any of Boston’s suburbs but slam-bang in the city centre at the emerging Seaport area.
Announcing the deal, Jeff Immelt, as the Boston Globe wrote, hailed Boston’s clusters of “innovative companies, elite universities and educated workforced as a place for his century-old firm to transform itself in a digital age”.
But it wasn’t only the compelling offering of Boston, the day was also won by extraordinary partnership work between Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker (a Republican) and Mayor Marty Walsh (a Democrat) with State Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash — who addressed last year’s Golden Bridges gathering — cementing the relationships.
GE couldn’t help but be impressed by political leaders, backed by Boston’s business community, singing from the same hymn sheet.
Of course, the cherry on the cake was that Boston was able to offer tax break inducements to make the move from Connecticut to Boston a home run for GE.
The lessons are so clear to those of us in Belfast as we set out on our Fresh Start, stressing, as new First Minister Arlene Foster says, “consensus over conflict” that I’m not even going to bother spelling them out for you.
In New York this Friday, Consul General of Ireland Barbara Jones has kindly agreed to host the launch of the brochure for the 2016 Belfast International Homecoming Business and Investment Conference. You can catch a sneak-preview here but I’m delighted that it represents a united effort by political, business, community and cultural champions to change the narrative about Belfast.
As John Donovan, Chair of the Boston-Belfast Sister City Board remarked after the stunning triumph of the Friendship Four ice hockey tournament in November: “there’s a chasm between what Americans think Belfast is and what they experience when they visit”. Our job is close that chasm and in that regard Belfast International Homecoming 2016 is our high hand.
My thanks, therefore, to the Honorary Chairs who have come together to back this initiative (not least New Yorkers John O’Donoghue, John J. Reilly, Jim Clerkin, Suzanne Aquino, Geraldine Hughes and Marcus Robinson) to bring back our global family to rejuventate and reimagine Belfast.
And thanks also to the blue-chip private sector supporters of Ulster Bank, Deloitte, Tennents NI, CPL, Concentrix and Market Resource Partners who will roll out the red carpet to the business leaders from around the world from 12-14 October. Our intention is to bring in 20 top CEOS and potential investors who will be impressed sufficiently by Belfast’s exciting offering to make the decisions which, á la GE in Boston, can transform Belfast’s fortunes. (And on that note, I will travel to Boston on 5 February with Lord Mayor Arder Carson to launch the Homecoming brochure there.)