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Cross Border Development Zone, Business led!

July 11, 2012

Brian Morgan raised the question in a Border Counties Forum on Linkedin: Can Local Authorities really lead the development of a Cross Border Development Zone?  http://goo.gl/Fu2d0

The success of BorderBizCamp proved: good things happen when 15 business folk conspire and drive the engine of government agencies.

This can happen on a as wide and broad a scale as the border counties themselves. Bradley & Best’s study (see above link) is what we have long known. The very nature of the region itself, geographically and politically made us an entrepreneurial sort. “Bandit country” has the potential to lead the way for economic recovery on the island of Ireland.

This consideration of a 32 county economy and a market of 6 million vs. 4+2, is without a political agenda. Collectively we must conspire to grow and export our IP, our goods and services and not our children.

Where to begin? Well versed in your own industries, you know better than I. A blow- in with a private technology and entrepreneurial incubator, and as a passing experience of running businesses in medicine and Real Estate offer the following:

No mother with a child complaining of a sports injury is prepared to wait 8-16 weeks for an MRI. I was impatient with an 8 week wait for an echocardiogram. Skilled technologists – not doctors are largely responsible for the delivery of these services. In US emergency rooms (A&E) in rural areas and during the late night shifts in urban settings, technicians perform the scans and doctors in Asia read them during the middle of their work day. A shortage of radiologists or junior doctors does not impede the delivery of health care. In fact, it drives down the costs. These machines, staffed and run in underserved areas would create jobs in sustainable businesses.

Currently, cardiac surgery necessary in NI but not available, is paid for by the NHS to Dublin hospitals. Residential treatment for eating disorders not available on the island, is paid for by both health services for treatment in England and America. Insurance companies pay both services. It can be done and it need not be elitist. If private industry can provide this service more efficiently and cost effectively, then let’s explore health care as an economic engine for the border. It can simply subcontract to the health services.

Similarly, investment in ambulance services pays off. Across rural America, many local hospitals serve as triage centres for regional trauma centres. State of the art motor and helicopter ambulances are staffed by physicians, physicians assistants and/or skilled medics.

This system began to evolve following the return of highly qualified medics from the Vietnam War theatre. The UK has announced such a pull back from Afghanistan and of late Iraq. Highly qualified medics and trauma nurses are already trained and available. While I know the proposed introduction of helicopters to the border is dicey – these would be well received. It could become a jobs program for returning veterans. They could lead the training of local professionals.

New York City investors in the 40s & 50s, impatient with banks and other available finance mechanisms created a new instrument , the REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust). Oversimplified it is a mutual fund run by real estate professionals. If great minds could create that lasting & secure financial instrument, we can adopt the method, or create a new one. Individual investors here and in the Diaspora could buy shares creating substantial funds. Public-private partnerships can then build relief roads and technology parks.

Lastly, currently bringing investment to the Newry/Dundalk region has taught me that the single greatest opportunity will come at the hands of an attitude change. “What would you be movin to this feckin country for?” – It needs to be replaced by:

I live in a beautiful region – the prototype for C.S. Lewis’ Narnia. I live and work 15 minutes from home, all within 1.25 hrs drive of two capital cities with world class museums, theatre and restaurants. My business is within a 2 ½ hour drive of 75% of the population of the island.

The men and women who built Silicon Valley, the research and technology centres in Colorado and the Golden triangle in the Carolinas – they don’t live and work in New York City or LA. They live and work where the quality of life is like our own. Offices are on campuses not in skyscrapers, there is access to nature, the mountains and the sea. Good schools and a great place to rear children.

The island of Ireland is uniquely positioned to be the conduit through which the research, development and customer service needs of North and South America – meets Europe and Asia. One thousand a week don’t have to emigrate.

A decade from now we can be bringing them home with their new skills and new found love of life in “these feckin countries”. But only if we all conspire to tell the world.

Please follow the link, join the discussion on the Border Counties Forum and let your voice be heard!

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