Ireland and the Upstate: Demystifying Foreign MarketsMarch 20, 2020
Ireland-South Carolina Business Partnership explores international opportunities
(Editor’s note: This post highlights a Business Partnership Program multiple years in the works, and a visit that took place March 2nd-5th of 2020. With the fluid COVID-19 situation, we recognize much has changed in the time since. We are abiding by current U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations to minimize group gatherings and look forward to a future return to the relationship-driven approach to business that has propelled our success.)
What does it mean for foreign-owned companies to do business in the United States? And, how do small companies break into a massive continent?
As part of a Transatlantic Business Partnership Program, Irish Manufacturing Research (IMR) and the Upstate South Carolina Alliance sought to provide these answers to representatives from 10 Irish companies during a four-day visit to South Carolina’s Upstate. This truly was a unique trip, with the primary focus being company to company engagement in order to determine the potential business relationships between South Carolina & Irish companies.
The Upstate, home to Greenville and Spartanburg, is located halfway between New York and Miami on the East Coast of the United States, and home to 1.5 million people.
During the visit, 13 senior executives from Irish companies explored business opportunities to join the aerospace and life sciences supply chains, offering a range of products and services from precision machining to data management and cloud storage.
The visit was coordinated jointly by Irish Manufacturing Research and the Upstate SC Alliance. Both organizations, geared toward growing and positioning their respective areas as global business leaders, have worked together over the last two years to learn about each other’s economies, build relationships, and explore shared business opportunities.
It’s also a new approach to economic development, says Jacob Hickman, Director of Business Recruitment for the Upstate SC Alliance.
“We’re aiming to be more strategic as we look to which markets align with ours, and bring a relational element to how we attract investment into our state,” Hickman says. He has been visiting Ireland regularly over the past couple of years, and believes there is tremendous potential for the areas help each other develop our economies.
Demystifying the American Marketplace
What’s the purpose of the trip?
“We use the term ‘demystify,’” says Mike Cunningham, Business Development Manager at Irish Manufacturing Research. “What we mean by that is, sometimes it can be quite a daunting proposition for an Irish company to look at the United States. They may consider there are barriers, they don’t know who to deal with, they’re not sure how to go about starting that conversation. They may not even be sure what their value proposition is to the local industry.”
“The good news is that between the team at IMR and the Upstate Alliance, we do know the right people to talk to. We can facilitate companies coming together,” Cunningham continues. “And the goal of this trip is very simple: we want participants to learn what’s needed to do business in South Carolina, what companies in South Carolina need, and how they can develop export and trading relationships with these companies.”
During the four-day visit, the 13 visitors received a briefing on U.S. legal considerations from Burr & Forman attorneys, covering topics from how to establish a company to protecting intellectual property to the immigration process.
Click to see pictures from the visit in the interactive gallery below:
Trip participants also split into two tracks – one focused on life sciences, the other on aerospace – to engage in multiple days of meeting with Upstate industries, engaging more than 20 Upstate businesses in the process.
Gerry Reynolds, Managing Director of Limerick-based Takumi Precision, participated in the aerospace track. His company was formed in 1998, and today has 85 employees who help fulfill the company’s business, which is 65% export-oriented.
“When a business, particularly in an island as small as Ireland, gets to a particular scale and size, you need to start looking outside of your natural boundaries. Until now, our natural boundaries have been domestic Ireland and on into Europe,” Reynolds says. “If you’re looking for work outside of your comfort zone, you’re never going to find it under your desk.”
During the trip, he met and networked with eight aerospace companies, in addition to a representative from the S.C. Aerospace collaborative.
“Business is done by people, not by organizations. You know, we think of my little organization and the bigger companies we support. It’s not really a business to business transaction, it’s a person to person transaction,” Reynolds says. “That’s what’s been useful about this week: getting to know more people. And, over time, that network will grow and multiply.”
Reynolds likens the group visit to “hunting in packs,” where there’s safety in numbers.
“It’s a very lonely place to do it on your own, to get into an airplane and go to a tradeshow or to meet a customer, especially as a small SME. You feel very isolated and vulnerable, and it’s a very searching experience,” Reynolds adds. “When you do it in the comfort of having collaborators around you, you have the power of the group. It’s like hunting in a pack. There’s a comfort factor in it. We draw energy from each other.”
Ireland and South Carolina: Business-Friendly Environments
So, what traits make Ireland and Upstate South Carolina compatible?
Geographically, the island country and South Carolina cover similar amounts of land. Their population figures are similar, with 4.83 million people residing in Ireland and 5 million in South Carolina.
Both are welcoming to foreign-direct investment: Ireland leads for percentage of FDI per capita in Europe, and South Carolina leads among the United States.
“The real reason that we’re working with South Carolina is that, as a state, you have the same economic philosophy as we do in Ireland: you’re very pro-business, as we are indeed in Ireland,” Cunningham adds. “Many companies elect to locate in Ireland as their base in Europe. Likewise, companies in Europe should consider South Carolina as their base in the United States.”
Another element of compatibility: complementary industrial strengths.
South Carolina is known for its manufacturing strengths, especially in aerospace and automotive, with a growing presence of life science companies. German luxury automaker BMW has its largest vehicle production facility within Spartanburg. Lockheed Martin recently launched F-16 production in Greenville, and Boeing produces 787 Dreamliners in Charleston, just a few hours’ drive from the Upstate.
And Ireland’s density of technology, fin-tech, medical and life sciences, and semiconductor companies see opportunities to join the Upstate supply chain.
Irish Technology and Upstate Manufacturing
Take Odyssey Validation Compliance CEO Oisín Curran’s word for it: his data management company jumped at the opportunity to participate in the visit because the manufacturing-rich environment is a target market.
“One of the things we really like about South Carolina, and Greenville in particular, is we come from a small country where everybody interacts on a personal basis, and we got that feeling from Greenville,” Curran said. “It’s intimidating coming to the United States, and we got to meet a lot of companies in our target market and got validation for our value proposition, which is really exciting for us. And we got a good feel for what it might mean for us to situate ourselves here.”
Having pre-arranged meetings with potential clients was a key element to the trip’s appeal, he adds, landing Odyssey at the table with companies who may not even recognize their data potential.
Curran followed the life sciences track, visiting Upstate bioscience, medical device and pharmaceutical companies with support from SCBIO.
“What we’ve found is, over the years, regardless of what part of the market you’re in, whether you’re manufacturing widgets, bio-pharmaceuticals or medical devices, one of the key things tying all of those activities together is data,” Curran says.
“It’s data about how the product is manufactured, how it is designed, built, tested, how it’s used in the marketplace. And that’s something where even on this trip, we met a lot of companies who may not have seen the value in the data that is generated on their products, where they’re focused on manufacturing, but they see a lot of opportunity on moving this to the next stage: maintenance, reliability, performance, and just making better products.”
An Accelerating Partnership
If the potential to make international friends and explore business potential wasn’t enough reason to get involved, the group closed out its visit by experiencing the BMW story firsthand. At the BMW Performance Center, the group floored it in M-series vehicles and tested the off-road capabilities of SUVs produced across the street at BMW Manufacturing Co.
If the acceleration of a BMW is a perfect example of the opportunities shared between Ireland and Upstate South Carolina: a long road ahead, revving on all cylinders.
This was only the first phase (the Demystify phase) of the Business Partnership Program, aimed at helping Irish SME companies that have not previously traded in the U.S.A. receive the essential business orientation needed to embark on expanding their business into this critical market.
Phase 2 of the Business Partnership Program is more comprehensive. It will be an extended program aimed at SME companies who have completed Phase 1 or those who are currently trading in the U.S.A. and seeking assistance to scale up.
“This trading arrangement that we have with South Carolina hopefully will benefit many companies for years to come,” Cunningham adds. “This is just the start of a journey.”
Join the Business Partnership Program
Are you an Upstate company representative or know of a South Carolina company that is interested in being part of this Business Partnering Program?
The Upstate SC Alliance and Irish Manufacturing Research are coordinating a corresponding visit to Ireland where South Carolina SME companies can make business connections, subject to COVID-19 restrictions.
Interested companies should contact Jacob Hickman at [email protected] for more information.