Last week I was lucky enough to be at the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington DC to listen to the great and the good pitching Northern Ireland as a business destination. I was in Washington as part of the St Patrick’s Day government delegation and my role was to be part of the team promoting and celebrating Northern Ireland’s many treasures for businesses and tourists alike.
The on-the-road double act conducted these days by First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness is an impressive effort. Both Ministers competently and in a single voice extol the benefits of starting or basing business in modern day Northern Ireland listing our young and well educated workforce, the fact that 60% of our population is under the age of 40, our good transport links with the rest of the world, our cost effective operating environment, our focus on the important emergent digital sectors, our high speed connectivity (especially to the US) and our soon to be highly competitive corporation tax rate.
The photo above is of Jay Roewe (Senior VP of Production from Santa Monica based HBO). Also speaking at the event was Brian Conlon (CEO of highly successful indigenous company the Newry based First Derivatives). Although Brian’s story is a great one, it’s Jay that I’m going to focus on in this blog – as I thought everyone might be interested in knowing the reasons he gave for selecting Northern Ireland as the place where HBO based and filmed their new series “Game of Thrones”. Some of his reasons may come as a bit of a surprise to you.
Jay was at pains to point out that HBO is first and foremost a business and that all decisions the company makes are carefully considered in terms of the business benefits they generate. These were the reasons why HBO selected Northern Ireland ahead of any other location:
- Our senior politicians were willing to travel to HBO on the US West Coast to make the case in person and this helped Jay “sell” Northern Ireland to his senior team
- The Northern Ireland film industry workforce is young but keen and very willing to learn quickly
- Belfast gave HBO easy access to UK & European crew and actors
- Belfast is a small city and this made the logistics of moving 200+ people around on any given day very straightforward
- The cost analysis exercise carried out by HBO showed Northern Ireland provided the best value for money
- Belfast’s Paint Hall in the Titanic Quarter (where ship components were once painted) is a unique venue with extraordinarily high ceilings.
There were a few more points that to me were less predictable or expected:
· HBO liked the fact that Belfast has great restaurants and comfortable lodgings for its West Coast staff.
· Jay also added that the warm spirit of the Northern Ireland people and the warm welcome given to HBO was a positive factor.
I’m sure HBO was also swayed by the availability of Martin McGuinness’s brother as an extra for Game of Thrones. Martin described his brother as having long grey hair and standing on the back of a cart – we’ll all keep an eye out for him Martin. I know I for one can’t wait to see Game of Thrones and it makes it even more exciting that it was filmed here.