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American investment dream can be a reality for canny Irish businesses

Alan O'Neill


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We sometimes look back at the past with rose-tinted glasses. Don’t forget that only a few short years ago Brexit became a big headache for us. Prior to that bombshell we had just started to stand upright again as we exited the impact of the global financial crisis. Remember the Troika?

As the months unfolded, the business community started to weigh up the potential opportunities and emerging challenges from Brexit. Supply chains and currency fluctuation was top of the agenda.

Many businesses in Ireland looked beyond the UK, including to the US, for stability. After all, this little country of ours was already punching above its weight with multinational business giants.

We became global leaders and a strategic hub for software, pharmaceuticals and financial services thanks to the gargantuan efforts of the IDA and Enterprise Ireland, various government initiatives such as low corporation tax, the IFSC, incentives for start-ups and investment in education.

Multinationals, especially those coming from the US, trust us. They believe in our stable government, our people and our infrastructure, our proximity to Europe and Mena. We are their English-speaking Atlantic Bridge to a sophisticated and mature market that is profitable for them.

After the initial Brexit noise, along came Covid adding further concerns to supply chains. ‘Near-sourcing’ became a priority to reduce our dependence on China, even at the expense of margin.

As we seemed to be exiting the pandemic, we were faced with the additional legacy of inflation. Now with the war in Ukraine and the uncertainty of how China will react, commodity prices continue to soar and add pressure.

In several strategy workshops recently I notice many of my clients are looking to the US for opportunities. Whether you’re an importer or an exporter, there might be something in it for you too.

What to consider when looking to the US for opportunity

If you’re an exporter, check out the market and how US customers might be different. Who is your main competition and what are they doing? Should you focus on the whole country, a particular state or just the east coast? Enterprise Ireland is a great repository for this information.

Unless you have deep pockets or can secure a distributor, selling at scale will be a challenge. Niche products with strong USPs often have a better chance of making you more relevant.

BFree Foods, for example, is an Irish manufacturer of gluten-free bakery products. It has had terrific success selling directly to Walmart.

If you’re a local Irish manufacturer or service company, might you enhance your offering by also being the Atlantic Bridge for a US brand with a product range adjacent to your own?

In my own consulting company, I felt we had a gap in our portfolio for leadership development linked to culture refresh programmes.

As leadership is a topic that lots of HR practitioners have strong views on already, I felt it might be beneficial to partner with a global brand called Blanchard. It is only a part of what we do, but the brand familiarity reassures international clients in particular.

Go and attend trade shows on the ground. This morning I did a simple Google search of trade fairs in the US. As you can imagine the list is endless so be selective.

As an attendee at more trade fairs over the years than I care to count, I am a big fan of walking the corridors and meeting people. There is nothing like feeling the mood first hand, seeing the product and chatting to insiders face to face.

Some of the shows also have a conference attached, which often has a high ticket cost. Don’t be put off by that. More often, you can visit the exhibition without having to attend the conference.

Don’t get stuck talking to the representative for Oregon, make sure you speak to whoever looks after international development. Your accent will cause them to listen, but back it up with an opening pitch that is well polished and confident.

The Last Word

If you think the steps outlined above are overly structured, then that’s okay. You might feel like speculating with your time and a small travel budget and just go to a trade show.

I can’t say there is much wrong with that either, as you might just strike it lucky and land the opportunity of a lifetime. For the sake of a few bob, if you have it to spare, then why not give it a shot.

Go with an open mind and prepare to roll with whatever comes your way, but don’t make rushed decisions.

If you don’t apply basic principles that test suitability, feasibility and acceptability, then make sure to consider them after your trip and before you sign a contract.

Alan O’Neill, author of ‘Culture Matters’ and ‘Premium is the New Black’ is a Keynote Speaker and owner of Kara, specialists in strategy, culture and people development. Go to www.kara.ie for help with your business

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