Just before Hurricane Irma struck, I visited Miami on my first venture outside of Washington, D.C., since I arrived in mid-August as Ireland’s ambassador to the United States. I sympathize with those in Florida and the region whose lives have been affected by the storm, but I know that Floridians are determined to recover. I am sure that communities will bounce back.
The people of Ireland have an understanding of Floridians’ ordeal. They are currently dealing with the aftermath of the storm Ophelia, which caused terrible destruction when it hit our country on Oct. 16.
In the past, Miami might not have been the first port of call for a newly arrived Irish ambassador. It is not traditionally thought of as a stronghold of the vast Irish-American community — 33 million according to the last Census. But things have changed in recent times, and South Florida now looms larger for us than before. There are a number of reasons for this.
First, we recognize Florida’s growing economic potential. Ireland’s two-way trade with the United States tops $100 billion, which benefits both countries significantly. Irish-U.S. trade is relatively balanced, with Ireland enjoying a surplus in merchandise exports and the United States recording a surplus in trade in services. Ireland’s trade with Florida constitutes a relatively small percentage of the Irish-U.S. total, but it has been growing rapidly.
Last year, a new South Florida Irish American Chamber of Commerce was established, and it is already doing well in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties, harnessing the energies of the growing Irish business community. Its members are committed to deepening commercial links between us, and they have told me that they see great potential in this area.
Several Irish companies already are active in the state, employing more than 5,000 Floridians. One Irish company, building materials producer Oldcastle, has a turnover of more than $1.2 billion in Florida alone.
Irish airline Aer Lingus inaugurated a nonstop service from Miami to Dublin on Sept. 1. This is the airline’s second direct route between Dublin and Florida and it will facilitate the development of business and tourism links. Irish people have long enjoyed Florida’s sunny climate, and the new Aer Lingus service will enable the state’s legion of golfers to explore Ireland’s famous links, which are scenic and challenging.
Second, we recognize South Florida as a commercial gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean, a part of the world with which we are keen to engage more intensively. Several of our companies — the mobile top-up firm Ding, for example — already use Miami as a base for reaching this region. We are glad to communicate South Florida’s strengths in this regard to other Irish firms.
I also hope that more Florida companies will come to see Ireland as their gateway to the European Union market. Citrix, Opko Diagnostics, World Fuel Services, Aersale, and Kaseya are among the Florida companies with investments in Ireland. But the scale of this investment is relatively modest and much less than Irish investment in Florida.
Florida companies should bear in mind that Ireland will be the only English-speaking country in the EU when the United Kingdom leaves it. (This is something our government never wanted to see happen, but we accept its consequences and confront the difficulties it poses for us.) This will enhance our attractions as a location for investment from the United States, including Florida. Some 800 American companies run highly successful operations in Ireland, and we expect that number to grow in the coming years.
American companies are attracted to Ireland by the caliber of our young and highly educated people, the quality of infrastructure, access to the EU’s single market of more than 500 million consumers, and our fair and transparent system of corporate taxation.
Our third reason for making Florida a priority is that it fits in with our strategy of diversifying our U.S. links away from the Northeast, the Midwest and the West Coast, where we have long been represented. It is no coincidence that the last two consulates general we opened have been in Atlanta (from which we cover Florida) and Austin. During my visit to Miami, I announced the appointment of a new honorary consul for South Florida (we already have a consul in Orlando), Ian O’Flaherty, an Irish businessman who has long been a Miami resident. His appointment will give us a vital on-the-ground presence that will let us develop the potential for a deeper Ireland-Florida engagement in the months and years ahead.
Daniel Mulhall is Ireland’s Ambassador to the United States.