Belfast rolls out the red carpet this week for a 20-strong US business mission keen to test our city’s exciting proposition for investment.
Endorsed by the American Ireland Fund, the mission, the first in 20 years, brings together a high-powered group of business and political leaders who all share a heart and head belief in Belfast’s future.
Some are Belfast ex-pats, former sons and daughters of Belfast who have risen to the pinnacles of their professions in the US. Others are Irish Americans who have been longstanding supporters of efforts to build the peace with jobs.
While undoubtedly the mission will focus on our status as Europe’s fastest-growing knowledge economy (Vello Systems from San Francisco will join Minister Arlene Foster to open their new offices here during the mission) some of our visitors are attracted also by our city’s natural and traditional assets, including our vibrant port, a powerhouse in the local economy, and our once all-but-mothballed shipyard.
Indeed our visitors will see a new landmark in the burgeoning Titanic Quarter which rises higher than our city’s tallest buildings: the Blackford Dolphin oil rig.
Ensconced in the Harland and Wolff shipyard for a multi-million pound refurb, the mammoth oil rig lights up the night skyline like a Christmas tree as workers beaver away 24-7 to prepare the rig for its next posting in the North Sea.
Only one-third of the 600 workers on the Blackford Dolphin are local but the contract has brought a huge boost to our suppliers, electricians, glaziers, hotels and restaurants. It also highlights Belfast harbour as the premier port in Ireland and the closest port to North America.
On a visit to local company Blue Water Ewings Shipping this week — who masterminded the Blackford Dolphin contract — I heard of their bold plans to bring more oil rigs to Belfast for refitting over the next 18 months. Such a pipeline of projects could be the spur to retraining a new generation of our young people in manufacturing skills, bringing much-needed opportunities to those who cannot find jobs in the tech sector.
We have branded the US mission ‘Opportunity Belfast’ but it’s my ambition to make that title synonymous with our city not only for those who visit to partner in our progress but for everyone who has the good fortune to live in the great city of Belfast.