The Herald Business - - Cover Story -

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.

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