Fostering Irish ties with Boston

Bank of Ireland’s Clodagh Hughes returned to Boston, a city she last lived in as a student, on a trade mission led by Kildare Chamber to forge ties between Kildare and one of the US east coast’s most vibrant business centres. It proved to be a moving experience.

Quincy Market, Faneuil Hall, Red Sox, Fenway Park, Boston Common, the Black Rose, the bar from Cheers, that was then. Now, on my return some years later it is all of the above and so much more. Seaport, Mass Tech Challenge, innovation, robotics, cyber security, green tech an Inclusive city international and diverse.

Many years ago, I won’t say how many, I travelled to Boston as a student. My first job was baking cookies in Faneuil Hall and I had a diverse array of jobs as you do in the land of opportunity: a nanny, a connoisseur of art, a country club Maître d, a waitress, to name a few.

“Our aim is to promote Kildare and its world-class companies during a series of business engagements with private and public organisations”

I lived on Commercial Street in the North End, which they say is the oldest residential community in Boston. The North End of the city became all too familiar as I strolled to and from work each day: Boston’s Little Italy, European and full of charm with many pastries on offer and the old timers on their plastic chairs chattering and drinking coffee. I loved Boston, life was full of carefree adventure I worked hard and prospered but, you can do that in America. 

I am now Clodagh, bank manager, mother, wife, adopted by the Lilywhites, Chamber board member, a responsible and productive member of society. But hey, I still have that wanderlust.

Returning to Boston

Large group of people sitting around a table.

Kildare Chamber meets Boston Chamber.

County Kildare Chamber represents over 400 businesses in Kildare. Allan Shine, CEO of Kildare Chamber, asked would I travel as part of a delegation to Boston.

“Promoting Kildare internationally as the premier location for businesses to set up their European headquarters is made easier with the excellent working relationship we have with our local government and also the vibrant business ecosystem we enjoy in Kildare which is very evident”

This trade mission would form part of the Chamber’s ongoing efforts to raise Kildare’s profile internationally and improve the already-strong bilateral trade and investment linkages with Boston.

The idea was to also provide a forum for Kildare companies active in the Boston area to develop their relationships with customers and other stakeholders. The trade mission is also part of the business agenda to increase the export market penetration and diversification of Kildare companies post-Brexit.

Boston is on the east coast of the US, which makes travelling there easier. There are 74 colleges and universities in the Boston area with a student population of more than 250,000. There are eight research universities.

Both the IDA and Irish Consulate have offices in Boston. Irish Americans made up 22.8pc of the population. Good enough reasons for the County Kildare business community to want to build connections.

The allure, of course for me was to return to Boston but this time I would represent County Kildare as the location of choice when considering the European market with a population of 210,000, young and vibrant, 30 minutes from Dublin airport, a strategic location in the greater Dublin area.  

There were 21 of us on the mission including: Peter Carey, CEO of Kildare County Council; Jacqui McNabb, head of Enterprise in Kildare County Council; Maureen Bergin president of the Chamber and business relations director of Kildare Village; Allan Shine, CEO of Kildare Chamber; small and medium-sized businesses form the county were also well represented, as were Maynooth College and Millennium Park in Naas.

A full agenda, early mornings a well laid-out plan ensued.

Large group of men and women in business atire.

The Kildare delegation in Boston.

Allan Shine informed us: “This trade mission to Boston facilitates the introduction of high-level business contacts for Kildare suppliers spanning a number of key sectors. During the mission, our aim is to promote Kildare and its world-class companies during a series of business engagements with private and public organisations. We will also meet with representatives of the Irish business community in the region. Our aim is to promote Kildare as the location of choice for companies in Boston to explore when considering Ireland as their European headquarters.

The Boston Chamber represents over 1,500 members in the Greater Boston. “We are the convener, voice and advocate of our diverse and collaborative membership who drive Greater Boston’s success,” we were told by representatives.

We were told Boston has the very same challenges as ourselves the high cost of living, the lack of housing stock, connectivity and transportation. The T is in crisis, with one derailment per week they said.

However, Boston is attractive to young people. The start-up resources are plentiful in terms of skills and educational resources, industry organisations and co working spaces, all contributing to Boston’s legacy of innovation.

We also met with Northeastern University. The university has more than 40,000 enrolments each year and tuition fees are in the region of €55,000 per annum, and its talent is in demand worldwide. “Our graduate degree and certificate programmes are aligned with local market needs, students graduate prepared to tackle the challenges facing Boston’s biggest industries,” we were told.

Blonde-haired woman and brown-haired man smiling.

Clodagh Hughes with the Sheriff of Norfolk County, Jerome P McDermott.

Boston is considered a hub for healthcare, education, finance, business, biotechnology and the life sciences.

Among the businesses we met was Nutter McClennen & Fish, a law firm that employs 180 people. Bill Kennedy who is a senior partner has been recognised for his civic involvement by Boston Irish Honors, which celebrates Irish-American achievement in Massachusetts. Bill sits on many private and public boards in Boston.

Sarah Delude who is the international strategy manager of the City of Boston told us the city is 400 years old with a densely international population and an unemployment rate of just 3pc.

Our Diaspora Dinner was an evening for making connections and we met BIBA (Boston Irish Business Association), Boston College’s Dr Robert Mauro, State Senator Mike Rush, Dan Ryan and IDA and Enterprise Ireland were all present.

A full day’s agenda in Quincy meeting the Lord Mayor, Quincy Chamber, FoxRock Properties and Quincy College finished with a wonderful evening of entertainment.

On our final morning we met with BIBA on the LE Samuel Beckett for scones and tea. Consul General Laoise Moore and vice Shane Caffrey were there to welcome us. Ambassador Stravros Lambrinidis joined us to thank the Irish Navy for their assistance with the humanitarian rescue operation “Operation Sofia” which helped to save migrants attempting to cross from north Africa to the EU.

Thinking back on Boston

Three women and one man in business atire.

From left: Clodagh Hughes, Bank of Ireland; Gerry Prendergast, Strategic Development director of Millennium Park Naas, Emma-Jane Leeson owner of The Johnny Magory Company; and Colma McEvoy CEO and founder, Zavana Wellness.

Our first trade mission has proven very successful with a trade visit from the Boston Irish Business Association taking place in December and in October we welcomed a visit of 20 businesses from Quincy Chamber.

Kildare Chamber will be in Boston in both February and March 2020 visiting Boston businesses and City Council ahead of the October trade visit. We will have over 20 companies accompany the Chamber in October 2020 on a five-day trade visit to Boston where we will sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Boston Chamber.

Allan Shine concluded by saying: “Promoting Kildare internationally as the premier location for businesses to set up their European headquarters is made easier with the excellent working relationship we have with our local government and also the vibrant business ecosystem we enjoy in Kildare which is very evident.”

For me personally, this trade mission has been a great success. I have forged many connections with Boston-based businesses. The Boston College Ireland Business Council Global Investment Symposium in November in the great House of Lords College Green has been another great opportunity to connect. Robert Mauro director of Global Leadership Institute at Boston College introduced CEO of SoftCo Susan Spence and Jefferey Hass, chief international officer of Draftkings. It was onto the Avolon Headquarters then where Dermot Desmond spoke of some of his greatest challenges and overcoming them.

We have since met up with BIBA in the magnificent Kilkea Castle here in Kildare, which is owned by the Cashman family of Boston; a very fitting venue for our travellers.

I would like to thank my colleague Derek Collins, director Bank of Ireland Corporate who has been a tremendous mentor and of course Roisin Crotty, head of County for Kildare. Roisin, thank you for believing I could do the job, I think I did .

Written by Clodagh Hughes, senior manager, Naas/Newbridge, Bank of Ireland

Published: 13 November, 2020