EXPLOITING SCOTLAND’S COUNTRY COUSINS
IF SCOTLAND wants to ensure its fair share of US investment dollars, perhaps it should look south.
Like most countries, Scotland has concentrated its investment promotion efforts largely on the well-established business hubs of Boston, Chicago, New York and Silicon Valley.
Houston has figured more recently and Scottish Development International has an office there. But it might also be worth taking a closer look at a fast-growing but under-appreciated region where Scotland could have an edge over its competitors.
The French have been among the few in Europe to recognise the region as prime hunting ground for direct investment; the Cote d’Azur regional development agency hosted a well-attended event in May 2006 entitled ‘Cote d’Azur Meets Georgia’ and will open an office in Atlanta this year.
What the French have picked up on is that Atlanta – the de facto capital of the southeast – serves as the global headquarters for half a dozen Fortune 500 companies. Two of America’s most iconic companies, Coca-Cola and WalMart, are Southern-based. The top names in sectors ranging from logistics (Federal Express and UPS), to retail (Home Depot, Lowe’s), to banking (Bank of America, Wachovia), to high technology (Dell, SYSCO) to energy (ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil) have their global headquarters in the southern US.
And the southeast is Celtic. Most of the British colonists who settled in the South in the 17th century were English, but the 18th century saw waves of Scots-Irish settlers, with large concentrations in the Appalachia and the Piedmont areas.
The largest of the highland games and Scottish cultural festivals held in North America is the annual celebration at Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina.
In the vast swathes of land below the Mason Dixon Line, once can see the Scots-Irish ancestry in the fair hair and faces, hear it in the fiddle-infused country music, and taste it in the fine whisky.
Like Scotland, the Deep South lost its fight for sovereignty from a union it resisted and still today is populated by a rough-and-ready but friendly people eager to assert their separateness. And the Ku Klux Klan, but probably better not to dwell on that.
The Irish have always been better at exploiting historical links with the US and American affinity for all things Celtic. But Scotland too has a strong national brand, with very few if any negative connotations, and, like Ireland, posits just the right mix of foreign, yet familiar for American companies.
This coupled with a shared language (more or less) stands Scotland in good stead to capitalise on the continued outward expansion of the US corporate sector and the growth of the south-east.
The US is, by quite some measure, the largest source of direct investment in Scotland, as it is for the UK as a whole.
While its importance as a source market has been declining slightly, making room for newer geographies such as India and China and for our European neighbours, it still accounts for over 40% of foreign direct investment projects in the UK.
Of this, Scottish economic planners are well aware. Last October the Scottish Executive published details of a new ‘Strategy for Stronger Engagement with the USA’, which aims to improve business, educational and cultural ties as well as boost tourism.
Crucially, the plan identifies priority regions where strong links already exist and where large Scottish diasporas are concentrated, including Georgia, North Carolina and Texas.