Atlanta offers low-cost hub for Irish businesses with high hopes of growth

Government targets America’s business-friendly southeast for investment

Downtown Atlanta: the World of Coca-Cola is an interactive tourist attraction. Photograph: Tami Chappell

Downtown Atlanta: the World of Coca-Cola is an interactive tourist attraction. Photograph: Tami Chappell

Mon, Mar 18, 2013, 00:06

Kieran McGill, like most businessmen working out of the US southern state of Georgia, likes Atlanta because he can travel to almost all of the 14 bars in Fado Irish pub chain in two to three hours.

The fact that the US capital of the southeast is home to Delta Airlines and that Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the busiest passenger airport in the world means that the city is a perfect focal point in which to establish a head office to grow into the wider United States or further afield.

“It is the main hub, has direct flights to Ireland and is on east-coast time,” said Dubliner McGill, who set up the pub chain in 1996 out of Ireland before relocating to Atlanta three years later.

He visits his pubs around the US on a regular basis and never has to transfer through other airports on his travels, he says.

Visiting Atlanta, one of three stops on his St Patrick’s Day trip to the US, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore pointed out the significance of Atlanta to Irish trading relations; the Government opened the first diplomatic consulate in America’s south.

Irish consul general Paul Gleeson opened the office two years ago; it was the first Irish consulate to open in the US since the 1930s.

Irish workforces
Atlanta is home to the global head offices of Coca Cola and UPS, both major employers in Ireland with Irish workforces of 750 and 700 people respectively, as well as Home Depot.

Oldcastle, a subsidiary of cement materials giant CRH, is the largest Irish employer in the US, employing 35,000 across the country, and is based in Atlanta.

“This is a hub for business. The fact that Atlanta is the largest airport in the world says it all,” said Mr Gilmore.

The Labour leader said that Connect Ireland, the business that runs a scheme for the Government to encourage companies to invest and create jobs in Ireland, said the Atlanta region was the area that was attracting the most interest from potential investors.

“We are putting a big concentration on the southeast of the United States,”Mr Gilmore said.

Weak employment laws, competitive wages and low state and county taxes all help to attract businesses to Georgia, a state where one million people claim Irish ancestry.

New investor
“The reason we chose Atlanta was because it was a hub,” said Peter Casey, the founder and chief executive of executive search company Claddagh Resources and a new investor in RTÉ’s Dragon’s Den programme.

“It makes life miserable if you are not in a hub and Atlanta is one of the lowest-cost hubs... Labour is relatively less expensive and property is cheaper.

“My house would be three times the price in Boston,” said Casey, who is originally from Derry and moved to the US 18 years ago.

The former president of Coca Cola Don Keough, who received an Irish Presidential Distinguished Service Award from the Tánaiste at an event hosted by Atlanta’s Irish Chamber of Commerce last week, says that the US southeast is a place on the move.

“It is a very open society – Atlanta has grown from people coming from everywhere so they are open to greet people. It is not a closed society,” he said.

While Atlanta offers potential, Keough laments the fact the US government has not followed the example of the Irish Government and taken more aggressive action to try to tackle the country’s financial problems.

Problems
“We have just been unwilling to do that, and as a result we are not dealing with the fundamental problems,” he said.

“The deficit is growing by leaps and bounds. You can’t get a government to work together to confront those issues. Sooner or later they are going to have to do that.”