Opinion: Celebrating strong Ga.-Ireland business ties

People on the streets of Dublin, Ireland on March 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
People on the streets of Dublin, Ireland on March 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

My abbreviated visit to Georgia and the Southeast last week has proved deeply valuable despite our challenging times. I have consulted with local leaders and major corporations on how best to ramp up the response to COVID-19, and I have had a snapshot of the striking achievements of Irish companies in the Southern states of the United States. The Kerry Group’s announcement of a $125 million investment in Rome, Georgia is part of much wider pattern.

Business leaders advance the idea of differentiation, unique value propositions and competitive advantage. Being different is what makes you a brand whereas being the same makes you a commodity that could be easily swapped out for a competitive offering. There is ample truth to this — and look no further than Georgia for homegrown examples of global brands that have established strong businesses based on differentiation strategies — but it’s not uniformly applicable across all businesses and especially not the case in regional development where sameness and shared values mean a lot. This is why Ireland and the state of Georgia have such a robust and mutually beneficial relationship!

Irish business in the United States is at an all-time high! Irish Foreign Direct Investment into the United States topped $235.7 billion in 2019 and, today, over 110,000 people in the U.S. are employed by Irish companies. In Georgia, however, it goes deeper than the numbers suggest.

Ireland has leveraged a strong agricultural heritage into modern global agri-tech, food-tech and food industries. This mirrors the development of Georgia’s agri-tech, food-tech and food sectors and the interests of both regions converged last week as Kerry Group announced a $125 million investment into a new world-class food manufacturing facility in Rome, Ga. The facility will provide Kerry Group with integrated taste and nutrition solutions to help their customers meet growing consumer demand in the poultry, seafood and alternative protein markets.

A shared pedigree in agriculture is also counterbalanced by an emerging shared strength in Fintech and today several of Ireland’s fintech leaders including Sysnet, Worldnet and Fineos make Atlanta their North America home. The state of Georgia itself hosts some 120 fintech companies and 6 of the 10 largest U.S. payment processing firms. An impressive 70% of all credit card swipes, debit card payments and gift card purchases in the U.S. go through Georgia-based companies, earning it the state nickname ‘Transaction Alley.’ Not to mention the fact that ATL, one of the busiest airports in the world, provides a direct flight from Ireland and the ultimate hub for Irish companies seeking to address North America and LATAM regions.

Partnership is the very root of this expanded commercial relationship. As businesses have become more global, connected and solutions-oriented, business relationships acquire considerable importance. It’s no longer a question of simply working with the procurement department to transact a shipment or two, but instead forging comprehensive business relationships that cross the procurement, supply chain, HR, marketing, finance and IT functions of partnering firms. Doing so enables longer-lasting, higher-value, mutually beneficial relationships.

With shared experiences, shared success and mutual trust, these relationships become even more valuable to both parties and herein is the sweet spot where the Irish and U.S. business leaders excel. It’s where the value is created and extracted — on both sides of the Atlantic but especially here in Georgia!

Paul Kehoe was appointed Minister of State at Ireland’s Departments of the Taoiseach and Defence, with special responsibility for Defence in 2016. He was previously Government Chief Whip from March 2011 to May 2016.