The Toward Economic Regeneration Program brought together fourteen individuals from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland for a ten-day study visit to the United States. The program participants included economic strategists, government policymakers, business leaders and academics. While in the United States, the group was able to explore ways in which Ireland, Northern Ireland and the U.S. can, in a difficult economic climate, share strategies for economic success. The roles of inward investment, small business promotion, corporate incentive schemes, workforce education and re-education and improved infrastructure in promoting economic regeneration were explored throughout the program. During their visit, the delegates attended academic seminars, met with business leaders and economic strategists in both Boston and Boise, and were able to network with their counterparts from the island of Ireland and the United States. Visits to exemplary organizations allowed the participants and their hosts to exchange best-practice strategies and to explore emerging trends in diverse areas of business and economic revitalization.
Economic regeneration is a vital issue, not only in relation to the current global economy, but also to the process of stabilization and normalization in relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and to civic life in Northern Ireland in particular. As the peace process continues to unfold in Northern Ireland, sustainable, long-term economic growth is a key factor in creating a stable civil society. The networks and contacts made by the participants throughout this program help facilitate cross-border participation and economic growth, as well as increased interaction and investment between and by companies and corporations in the United States, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
The program began in Boston where the group first met with Ms. Wanda Reindorf of The New England Clean Energy Council for an interactive discussion of that organization’s mission, and its unique initiatives to create sustainable economic momentum. Many participants felt that the strategies and initiatives undertaken by the Council were applicable to their own organizations on the island of Ireland and also enjoyed the opportunity for an open discussion with Ms. Reindorf and their program colleagues. At a site visit to the offices of The Boston Redevelopment Authority, the delegates were given a first-hand perspective of how local government agencies in the United States have been addressing redevelopment issues in an uncertain economic climate. The ‘city strategy’ approach employed by the Boston Redevelopment Authority was of particular interest to many group members, who saw possibilities for a similar approach in their own lines of work.
The visitors were next hosted by The Pioneer Institute, and met with that organization’s Executive Director, Director of Research, Director of Communications and Strategic Partnerships, and with the Project Manager for the Middle Cities and Transparency Initiative. Dr. Jim Stergios, Executive Director, outlined the Pioneer Institute’s data-driven research approach to policymaking, the Institute’s unique public/private partnership, and its efforts to create and sustain healthy business climates in Massachusetts through transparent regulation and the small business creation. The organization’s use of both philanthropic and business approaches was of particular interest to the participants.
Charlotte Kahn, Senior Director of The Boston Indicators Project led an academic seminar which outlined that think tank’s efforts to encourage public discourse, track progress on shared civic goals and to report on ten vital economic indicators, including the economy, housing, technology and the environment. The seminar also highlighted the need for economic policymaking that considers the local, national and global economic contexts, while also employing careful research data and analysis. Several group members felt that the independent think tank model of organizations such as the Boston Indicators Project and the Pioneer Institute could be translated into the Irish and Northern Ireland governmental and economic structures.
For their next Boston site visit, the participants toured the offices of CSN Stores, LLC, and met with Mr. Nicholas Malone, Chief Financial Officer and Mr. Chuck Castro, Vice President of Corporate Communications. CSN’s retail approach was of interest to the delegates, many of whom saw areas in which such approaches could be applied in Northern Ireland and Ireland. The organization’s recent investment in Ireland made this visit of particular interest to the visitors, who enjoyed the opportunity to meet with entrepreneurs and discuss areas of mutual significance and concern. Returning to Boston College, the group attended a seminar led by Mr. Ken Morse, Senior Lecturer and Managing Director at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Entrepreneurship Center. With Mr. Morse, the participants discussed key issues in areas of entrepreneurship and business development, including: concepts of winners and learners; MIT models for entrepreneurship; and improved, systematic approaches to business development. The seminar also highlighted key differences in public policy approaches between the United States, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, yet also provided opportunities for best-practice exchange and areas of shared interest.
At a meeting with the leadership team of the Venture Development Center, the group was introduced to that organization’s mission and function as the business partnership portal for the University of Massachusetts-Boston and its strategies for advancing collaborations and translating research capacities into development activities. Similarities between the Venture Development Center and organizations on the island of Ireland, as well as the relatively new nature of the organization and its facilities encouraged discussion and reflection among the participants on the practicality of further applying similar strategies on the island. Mr. Patrick Bench, Director of Business Development at the Massachusetts Office of International Trade & Investment (MOITI) next hosted the group for a tour of that organizations facilities and a discussion of its efforts to expand the Massachusetts economy in an international market through such strategies as focused export promotion, attracting foreign investment, and issues of protocol as related to trade and investment.
For their final Boston site visit, the delegates traveled to the offices of Boston World Partnerships to meet with that organization’s Executive Director, Mr. David McLaughlin. A new, non-profit organization created by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, BWP seeks to raise awareness of Boston as one of the world’s foremost centers of intellectual capital and innovation, and to strengthen the local economy by attracting investment and encouraging economic growth and development.
The second week of the Toward Economic Regeneration Program took place in Boise, Idaho, a city known for its unique approach to economic revitalization and a strong local economy. As in Boston, the visitors met with a variety of business leaders, entrepreneurs and economic policy makers. Their first site visit, to the offices of the Idaho Department of Commerce, allowed the participants to meet with local economic policy makers, and to discuss various strategies for attracting investment and sustaining long-term economic growth. The Idaho Department of Commerce’s focus on enhanced infrastructure and decreased regulation was discussed and debated among the group and with that organization’s Economic Development Manager and International Division Administrator.
Mayor David Bieter and Economic Development Manager Mr. John Brunelle were the next hosts as the group visited Boise city government offices. While there, they discussed the city’s entrepreneurial focus and its efforts to streamline the permitting process and to attract and sustain investment and downtown business development. Participants appreciated the open nature of the forum and enjoyed the opportunity to meet with elected officials and observe public policy approaches to economic development.
The economic opportunities represented by the growing field of clean energy production was again highlighted by a visit to the offices of Inovus Solar, and a meeting with that company’s co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Clay Young. Successful business and funding models for start-up companies were discussed, as well as use of the “angelsoft.net” package as an innovative tool for start-up companies to source national and international funding. The participants were keenly interested in the possibilities for implementation of the angel fund approach in Ireland and Northern Ireland.
A visit to the offices and facilities of Moxie Java International and a meeting with owners Mr. & Mrs. Rick and Stephanie Dean and Vice President for Sales & Marketing Mr. Jay Hayes highlighted that company’s successful strategies for maintaining innovation and a unique product in a largely saturated market- the U.S. “convenience food” and coffee retail industry. Their successful business models impressed the group and encouraged a lively discussion. Many participants felt that the strategies and attitudes evident at Moxie Java were applicable to a broad range of businesses and organizations, both at home and abroad.
Later in the week, the group met with Mr. Paul Hiller, Executive Director of the Boise Valley Economic Partnership. This regional development agency is focused on long-term job creation, encouraging community investment and maintaining high quality of living standards for residents of the Boise Valley area. Topics of discussion included the partnership’s mixed public/private funding model, issues of corporate government, small business incentives and strategies for marketing a local region in order to encourage investment.
Closing the Idaho portion of the program were two site visits to the Idaho District Export Council and the Idaho Small Business Development Center. The volunteer-based Idaho District Export Council seeks to support Idaho firms in the international export market by counseling and mentoring local businesses, identifying sources of trade and project finance, and by indentifying key issues that affect U.S. and Idaho industry competiveness in the international marketplace. The group was hosted by Ms. Amy Benson, Director Boise Export Assistance Center, United States Department of Commerce and Mr. Kirk Adams, Acting Chairperson of the Idaho District Export Council. Participants found many similarities between this organization and local enterprise agencies in Ireland and Northern Ireland, and also appreciated the DEC’s focus on growth and trade promotion.
At the Idaho Small Business Development Center at Boise State University, the visitors were welcomed by Mr. Patrick Shannon, Dean of the College of Business and Economics and Mr. James Hogge, State Director of the Idaho Small Business Development Center. They were able to observe first hand that organization’s efforts to support small business through no-cost business consulting and low-cost training programs aimed at encouraging small business growth. Participants were interested to learn about the benefits created by this program, not only for the small businesses involved, but also for the university which founded the program. The widespread availability in Ireland and Northern Ireland allowed the participants and their hosts to compare strategies and exchange best-practice information. A highlight of the visit was the opportunity to meet with Ms. Becky Logue, Owner of Beckmar Products, a local entrepreneur and a tenant at Boise State University’s TECenter.