Ireland’s economy has recovered from the Great Recession and its companies are ready to invest in South Carolina, said Shane Stephens, consul general of Ireland for the Southeast region.
“We’ll have growth of 4% this year and expect 3.5% next year, even with the impact of Brexit,” Stephens said during a visit to Columbia this week to talk with Gov. Nikki Haley about economic development.
Ireland and South Carolina have compatibilities that make doing business together easier, Stephens said. They are of similar population size — 4.8 million for Ireland, 4.6 million for S.C. — and at least 12% of South Carolinians trace their heritage to Ireland. Stephens has been invited to visit the state to celebrate with Irish heritage organizations.
Among the Irish companies that already have investments in South Carolina are Mergon Corp. and E&I Engineering, both of which have their U.S. headquarters in the Upstate and support the automotive cluster.
Many global companies have a large presence in Ireland because of its favorable business climate, Stephens said; and U.S. companies looking for a gateway into the European Union do well to consider Ireland.
“We’re about to become the only English-speaking country in the eurozone,” Stephens said. “We’re a zone of stability and certainty.”
Ireland’s neighbor, the United Kingdom, voted in June to leave the European Union. Ireland remains a part of the EU and strongly supports it.
“Forbes says we are the fourth-best place in the world to do business,” Stephens said.
In addition to business partnerships, Ireland is interested in educational exchanges, he said. Many Irish university students take a summer to work in the tourism industry in South Carolina through the J-1 visa Summer Work Travel Program. And the College of Charleston has a new Irish and Irish American Studies program, with travel to Ireland as a part of it.