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Taoiseach drums up investment in visits to NY, Atlanta

By Ray O'Hanlon

With unemployment in Ireland at record levels and the traditional emigration route to America largely blocked, there was an added sense of urgency to the visit to the U.S. this week of Taoiseach Brian Cowen.

In a varied program that took Cowen from Gaelic Park in the Bronx to the CNN studios in Atlanta, the taoiseach did, however, find time to reach out to an Irish and Irish American community which has become more involved in Ireland's economic life in recent years through the setting up of various advisory committees and councils.

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On Monday, Cowen began his visit at the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street where he announced what was described in a press release as a "major boost for enterprise development and job creation."

Specifically, this came in the form of a €500 million fund dubbed "Innovation Fund - Ireland."

The fund is intended to support enterprise development and job creation and was hailed by Cowen as "a key pillar" of the government's "smart economy strategy."

Said Cowen: "The Ireland of the future will be a smart, high-value, export-led economy. It will have some of the world's leading research-intensive multinationals, a number of which will be Irish-owned.

"It will be a center for advanced manufacturing. It will have thousands of innovative small and medium enterprises. These companies will be creating the products and services of tomorrow for a world market."

And he continued: "To position Ireland as a global innovation hub, we must make Ireland the best place in Europe to turn research and knowledge into products and services; the best place in Europe to start and grow an innovative company; the best place to relocate, or expand and scale a small or medium-sized company, and the best place in Europe for research-intensive multinationals to collaborate with each other and with clusters of small companies."

The Irish government's "Innovation Taskforce" has estimated that as many as 120,000 new jobs could be created by 2020 by following the strategy outlined by Cowen who appeared determined to get across the message that while Ireland was going through tough economic times, it would be a mistake to write off the Republic's prospects.

"In launching Innovation Fund - Ireland, we are presenting a positive message of confidence. The foundations for economic growth are not destroyed, but are firmly in place, ready to be built on," he said.

"The recovery is underway. Not only have we come through the recession, recording the fastest rate of GDP growth in the EU, we will deliver on the step-change needed to secure sustainable economic growth through a significant increase in the level of company start-ups and job creation in innovative, export-focused sectors."

While not totally focused on jobs, though the subject likely never strayed too far from his mind, Cowen took time to visit a summer camp for young GAA players at Gaelic Park in the Bronx and to visit the Great Hunger Memorial in Lower Manhattan which is now under the care of former New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson.

After New York, Cowen flew to Atlanta to formally announce the opening of an Irish consular office in the Georgia city.

As in New York, Cowen talked up his jobs and investment mantra, but also placed emphasis on the fact that Irish companies are employing tens of the thousands in their U.S. operations.

While in Atlanta, Cowen was lined up to meet with Georgia governor Sunny Perdue, and, in a series of interviews with CNN, to deliver the message that Ireland, though challenged, was open for business.