Why creating N.J.-Ireland trade group is serious business

The jokes tell themselves: More Guinness, more Hennessy — even more Lord of the Dance events. 

And then, there’s Gov. Phil Murphy, who loves to boast — and toast — about his Irish heritage and the consumption of its products.

That being said, the creation of the New Jersey-Ireland Trade Commission, announced last week, is about far more than a few pints and some scenic rounds of golf. It’s about the state getting an even bigger piece of the trade between the U.S. and Ireland.

And, for good reason.

To note: In 2021, U.S. goods exports to Ireland exceeded $13.8 billion and included chemicals and pharmaceuticals, computers and electronic products, aircraft and transportation equipment, power generation technology, medical devices and electrical equipment.

Also in 2021, Ireland’s total investment stock in the U.S. was valued at $269 billion, maintaining its ranking of the ninth-largest source of federal direct investment (or FDI) into the U.S.

New Jersey’s connection to Ireland goes even deeper.

There are an estimated 865,000 people of Irish descent in the state (roughly 10% of the population). And, with 700 Irish firms employing more than 100,000 people across all 50 states — representing investment in the agri-food/nutrition, construction, health care, information and communication technology and professional and engineering services sectors — you can see why the state has so much interest.

That’s why Murphy, joined by Assemblywoman Carol Murphy (D-Cinnaminson), New Jersey Economic Development Authority CEO Tim Sullivan and Ireland’s Sen. Mark Daly, signed A4055, which establishes the New Jersey-Ireland Trade Commission. 

The New Jersey-Ireland Trade Commission will aim to advance the mutual interests of New Jersey and Ireland, including bilateral trade and investment opportunities, joint policy action, business and academic exchanges, economic support and mutual investment in the infrastructures of the two regions.

“As a Murphy, it is an honor to bring New Jersey and my native Ireland together for a strategic partnership that will benefit our two regions for generations to come,” the governor said. “Tammy and I have had the pleasure of leading an economic mission to Ireland to meet with leaders across the country in different sectors and industries, and to truly understand what the country has to offer. I am pleased to put pen to paper to mark the start of an official partnership between our two regions.”

The commission, which will be an independent body “in, but not of,” the Department of State, will consist of 23 members — including 11 public members appointed by the governor, four members of the Legislature appointed by the Senate president, two members of the Legislature appointed by the Senate minority leader, four members of the Legislature appointed by the Speaker of the General Assembly, and two members of the Legislature appointed by the Assembly minority leader.  

The commission will be tasked with reporting recommendations to the governor and Legislature within one year of its initial organizational meeting, and by Feb. 1 of each succeeding year. 

Wes Mathews, CEO of Choose New Jersey, was thrilled by the news.

“We welcome the creation of the New Jersey-Ireland Trade Commission to facilitate increased trade and investment between our two states,” he said. “The Choose New Jersey Ireland Center will greatly benefit by having a state partner to collaborate with.”  

Steve Lenox, director of the New Jersey Ireland Center, was pleased, too.

“Our thriving academic and business ecosystems are a credit to the generations of Irish that came here before and built strong communities,” he said. “Whether it’s the technology, life sciences, clean energy or any of the other thriving business sectors that spur our state’s economy, this commission will play a key role in letting Irish companies and entrepreneurs know that they have a welcoming home in New Jersey.” 

And, while there are more than a few punchlines — this relationship is serious stuff.

Just ask Seán Fleming, Ireland’s minister of state for the diaspora.

“I was pleased to learn that Gov. Phil Murphy has signed a bill establishing the New Jersey-Ireland Trade Commission,” he said. “This bill indicates a strong desire to deepen two-way trade, investment and education links between Ireland and the state of New Jersey.

“New Jersey has more than 9 million inhabitants — of which approx. 1.1 million claim Irish heritage — and it ranks in the Top 10 biggest economies of the United States. The state is an important source of investment into Ireland, and a growing number of Irish-origin companies also have operations there.”