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Irish American Business Chamber and Network


Brexit on the Menu as Irish Business Chamber Hosts Northern Irish Diplomat

Dr. Andrew McCormick

What happens next with Brexit is far from clear. The outcome is a moving target.

It’s one man’s job to take the long view, to inform Northern Irish government officials of the range of possibilities, depending on that eventual outcome.

Dr. Andrew McCormick, director of general international relations, is Northern Ireland’s senior civil servant. He spoke before the Irish American Business Chamber & Network in Philadelphia recently to share what he knows—about Brexit’s potential impact on the peace process and how the lingering political uncertainties might affect the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, along with the impact on the economy and U.S. businesses that have headquarters or operations in the north.

In a conversation before the roundtable, McCormick explained his mission during his stateside tour of Irish organizations. Continue Reading


Podcast: Interview with Irish Ambassador Daniel Mulhall

On March 1, Irish Ambassador to the United States Daniel Mulhall will be on hand to present the Irish American Business Chamber & Network‘s 2019 Ambassador’s Awards.

Recently, we interviewed him about the awards, the Business Chamber and the broader significance to Irish-American commerce. We also chatted about a wider range of issues—from the involvement of Irish-Americans in Irish government interests, such as United States immigration policies, to Brexit and the Northern Irish peace process.

Here’s what he had to say. Continue Reading

News, People

The Irish American Business Chamber: It’s All About Connecting

Chamber Founder Bill McLaughlin

Chamber Founder Bill McLaughlin

“Never let not knowing something get in the way of getting something done.”

Those have turned out to be words to live by for Bill McLaughlin, founder of the Irish American Business Chamber and Network in Philadelphia. And they’re his words, first uttered when the organization was a just six-month-old fledgling and was approached by members of the Governor Tom Ridge administration to help fulfill a promise Ridge made to Irish business leaders.

“Back in 1999, Ridge was on a trade mission in Ireland and he told business people there, ‘Come to Pennsylvania, we’ll help you launch your business here.’ And about a dozen companies said, ‘We’re coming,’” recalled McLaughlin with a laugh, as he dug into a crabcake platter at the Union League’s Meredith Café one frigid afternoon recently. Suddenly, there had to be a there there—and there wasn’t. “And someone said, ‘Well, there’s an Irish business chamber in Philadelphia. Let’s call them.’”

At the time, the Irish Chamber was a corner of McLaughlin & Morgan, the marketing and public relations company McLaughlin started with his wife of 31 years, Natalie. He had plenty of business and personal friends “whose names were Mc or O something” to get a chamber started, but he’d also worked hard to bolster membership by compiling lists of and cold calling other local business leaders who might have Irish genes in there somewhere.

He used the same strategy to connect the Irish companies with the right potential partners here. “We had a young guy in the office at the time, Rory Wilson, and we made him our first fulltime chamber employee,” McLaughlin recalls. “We told him for the next few weeks, spend all your time lining up meetings for all these Irish companies and that’s what we did. We knew who to call and it was just a matter of getting in the trenches and doing it.”

Knowing who to call—and calling. It was that simple. And it always seems to work.

Sixteen years ago, as the result of roping in friends and calling business leaders he didn’t know, he lured about 120 people at the first event the Chamber held—with a local CEO as guest speaker –at the Union League. At last year’s Ambassador’s Awards, an annual luncheon honoring local companies, nonprofits and business leaders, there were almost 400 people in the grand ballroom of the Bellevue on Broad Street.

He grew his own business that way. McLaughlin and Morgan morphed into a business development firm and, in 2006, spawned a marketing arm known as McDay, which he and his wife sold recently.

McLaughlin tells a story of the time one of his clients wanted to know if his firm could build their company a website. This was 20 years ago when the information highway was full of empty acreage, ripe for new construction. “I said yes we can,” laughs McLaughlin. “Of course, we couldn’t. But we could learn how to.” And he knew who to call: the then Philadelphia College of Art and Textiles (now Philadelphia University). He hired several of their instructors who taught the McLaughlin and Morgan staff how to build websites.

And when the client of a Chamber board member asked McLaughlin’s help in solving a labor dispute in Ireland, “I said yes.” He laughs again. “I said, I don’t know how to solve it, but I know people who know how to solve it.” And it got solved.

Making connections is what the IABCN has always been about. It offers an opportunity, through its seminars and workshops, for members to not only hear the ideas and success stories of CEOs and business leaders but to meet them personally, as well as to learn ways to do or increase their business with Ireland, which has always been a business-friendly economic environment.

“I know that millions of dollars worth of business has taken place because of our connections,” says McLaughlin, “business that benefits both our members and Ireland.”

Just one example: A Chamber member whose company operates call centers in Ireland was convinced to locate one of his centers in the Gaeltacht, the term for those parts of Ireland where the Irish language is still spoken, as the result of a visit to the Chamber by Udaras na Gaeltachta, the Irish regional authority responsible for the economic, social, and culture growth of these unique regions.

The Chamber’s work is clearly valued by the Irish government. Every year, the Irish Ambassador travels from DC to the city to give the Chamber’s Ambassador Award to a local business that has strengthened the ties between the US and Ireland. Past honorees have included Aramark, Children’s Hospital, Wyeth, and the Vanguard Group.

This year, QVC, the home-shopping network headquartered in West Chester, will receive the award from Irish Ambassador Anne Anderson on March 5 in the Lincoln Ballroom at The Union League, in recognition of the many hours it devotes to promoting Irish goods and crafts.

Two other awards are given that day.

The Taoiseasch or “chieftain” award recognizes an individual of Irish descent who exemplifies leadership and compassion. This year, Frank Reynolds, chairman and CEO of PixarBio, is the recipient. After suffering a spinal cord injury, Reynolds founded InVivo Therapeutics and later, PixarBio, and is the co-inventor on more than 50 pending or issued patent applications on using biomaterials for the central and peripheral nervous systems.

The Uachtaran or “president’s” award, honors Ireland’s president whose office helps build economic and cultural alliances. This year’s winner is CBS3 and CWPhilly, the local networks that have, since 2003, broadcast the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day parade live.

Creating the Chamber was more than a good business decision for McLaughlin. Many Irish-American families have no more than a passing interest in their heritage—resurrected once a year in March. But McLaughlin developed a passion for Ireland from the time he was a little boy, listening to his Irish grandmother talk about her homeland. He visited there for the first time in 1968. A graduate of LaSalle University, he was teaching high school history. The experience he had mirrors that of many Irish-American family historians on their first trip “home.” It all seemed so. . .familiar.

“I was 23 and was hitchhiking around and meeting people and I kept thinking to myself, ‘These people look a lot like my family,’” he says. He even ran into a woman he was sure he was related to. “She was a dead-ringer for my grandmother.”

He fell in love with Ireland and remains just as smitten nearly 50 years later. Today, the McLaughlins own a little piece of Ireland. In 1991, while on a business trip to Germany, he bought his family farm in County Mayo, where his grandmother Mary Murtagh was raised, from a Murtagh cousin. He and his wife try to spend three or four weeks there every summer, but they also offer it to many nonprofit organizations as an auction or raffle prize. This past year, a raffle raised more than $20,000 for the Camden Catholic School Partnership.

He understands that not everyone connects with their Irish heritage on the same level. “My sisters weren’t interested in visiting Ireland until we bought the farm,” he chuckles. While he loves the literature and theater, a theater outing he planned early on for Chamber members didn’t go over. “We had six couples,” he says.

“There are people who like Irish music, for example, and others who don’t. Some people really aren’t interested in Irish history or literature, but they like business and that’s how they connect.”

Since it’s all about connections, says McLauglin, “it doesn’t matter how or you make the connection.” It just matters that you do.

The photos below are from last year’s Ambassador Awards’ luncheon.


Economy and Immigration: Ireland’s Top Priorities

Irish Ambassador Anne Anderson with SAP US President Gregory McStravick.

Irish Ambassador Anne Anderson with SAP US President Gregory McStravick.

Irish Ambassador to the US, Anne Anderson, in a speech to more than 400 people attending an awards program in Philadelphia on Thursday, illustrated the paradox of the Irish economic recovery. Called the European Union’s “bright spot,” Ireland’s economic growth has outpaced the rest of the Euro zone, its Moody’s rating has climbed from “junk” to investment grade, and Forbes Magazine recently called it the best place to do business in Europe.

But a 12 percent unemployment rate—a figure she admitted would be higher if young people weren’t still leaving Ireland in droves–still makes immigration reform in the US one of her top priorities, said Anderson at the Ambassador Awards at the Hyatt at the Bellevue, the premier event of the year of the Philadelphia-based Irish-American Business Chamber and Network.

She told a story of going home to Tipperary not long ago “where I went into the local pub for tea and sandwiches, and started talking to the barman. I asked him how things were and he told me it was great at Christmas, there had been a lot of life around the place until all the young people had gone back.” She asked him where they’d gone. “Australia,” he told her.

“They should have an opportunity to come here,” Anderson told the crowd, urging them to contact their local lawmakers to remind them that “this immigration issue has an Irish face.”

There are an estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish people in the US. “Most are employed, pay taxes and are good upstanding, god-fearing citizens,” said Anderson, who was Ireland’s permanent representative to the United Nations before replacing longtime Irish Ambassador Michael Collins nearly six months ago. “But they’re living in the shadows and I don’t have to tell you the human toll this takes—they’re unable to go back to Ireland for a terminally ill parent, a funeral, a wedding.”

The reason for the high number of Irish undocumented: It’s the unintended consequence of an immigration overhaul in the 1960s meant to end bias against immigrants from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. That left the Irish “with an infinitesimal share of green cards,” said Anderson.

Although several bills have been introduced in Congress to increase the number of green cards available to Irish citizens, immigration reform—like just about everything else in the US Congress—has been the victim of partisan skirmishes. There’s unlikely to be any movement in that direction unless some of the players change.

Anderson acknowledged that talking about Ireland’s recovery and at the same time pointing out the need to forge a new pathway for Irish immigrants to the US seems inconsistent. “We don’t want anyone forced out of Ireland,” she said. “But in the current circumstances [Ireland’s high unemployment rate] it’s a fact of life.”

Since many IABCN members do or want to do business in Ireland—like this year’s Ambassador’s Award winner SAP, the German multinational business software company with a US headquarters in Newtown Square and more than 1200 employees in three offices in Ireland—they’re no strangers to the facts of Irish life.

In fact, in his acceptance speech, SAP US President Gregory McStravick echoed Ambassador Anderson’s comment, citing Ireland’s highly educated populace and favorable business atmosphere, that “no one invests in Ireland for sentimental reasons.”

“We’re not doing it for sentimental reasons,” he told the crowd. “We’re not doing it because we’re good people, though we are. We’re doing it because it makes good sense for our business. There’s some very good talent in Ireland. . .and there are great benefits to doing business in Ireland.”

The Ambassador’s Award is one of three the IABCN gives out annually. Denis O’Brien, senior executive vice president of Exelon Corporation and CEO of Exelon Utilities (which includes PECO), was chosen to receive the Taoiseach Award, given to individuals of Irish descent who shows “exemplary leadership and compassion,” long before this year’s winter storms made this an “annum horribilis” for PECO.

Although more than 700,000 of its customers lost power–some for nearly a week—PECO got relatively good marks from most for its response: Thousands of PECO worker, putting in 16-hour days, with the help of more than 2,000 out-of-state electrical workers, restored power to all its customers in six days. It was the second worst storm in the company’s history.

Ann Claffey Baiada, RN, CRRN, director of Bayada Home Health Care, received the Uachtaran Award, given yearly to people of Irish descent who make “significant civic, cultural, or social contributions to the United States or Ireland, particularly contributions to the Irish diaspora.”

Baiada, who traces her family’s roots to County Donegal, grew up in a strongly Irish community in Germantown where, she said, “we had many mothers and you didn’t dare cross any of them.” It was also a community where she said everyone learned the important lessons, knowing right from wrong and to “take care of each other.”

The Irish American Business Chamber and Network is a nonprofit organization that promotes development of economic and education partnerships between the US, Ireland, and Northern Ireland.

View more photos from the event here.