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South Dublin Mayor and Ireland Consul General come to Tampa for new trade and cultural opportunities

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Seizing on the sister-city arrangement made with Tampa and Hillsborough County officials last September, South Dublin Mayor Sarah Holland and Ireland Consul General Shane Stephens are in Tampa all week, meeting officials from the business and education community to seek potential business opportunities in Ireland.

“We have so much in common, and so much to learn from each other,” said Mayor Holland, speaking at City Hall after meeting with Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “You have a thriving business community, a thriving educational community, an arts community, and all those guys have a cohesive message. They’re all selling the Tampa message on a global scale, and we want to do that in South Dublin as well.”

Holland described her itinerary for the week as a “whirlwind,” and on Tuesday that included a visit to CAMLS and a luncheon hosted by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

While Tampa has established a number of sister-city relationships around the world, Mayor Holland said that Tampa was the first American city that her county government (with a population of 265,000) now has a formal relationship with.

“Ireland is clearly and explicitly one of the very best destinations for an American company who wants to reach the 500 million consumers in the European Union,” added Stephens.

Not least of which is the island’s low corporate tax rate of 12.5 percent, which has led many American corporations, such as Apple, Facebook and Slack to flee the U.S. to conduct business there in recent years. “Obviously, there are some taxation benefits for multinational companies who want to relocate there,” said Mayor Stephens.

There is some anxiety in Ireland these days, however. It concerns the United Kingdom’s June 23 on leaving the European Union, the so-called “Brexit.” Stephens says Irish officials are hopeful that the UK will remain in the EU.

“We believe that the UK staying inside will be better for the European Union, we’ll be better for Ireland, and will be better for the UK,” he said. “Our closest partners and closest friends inside the EU, we see eye to eye with them on many economic issues. Their staying in, contributing to and reforming the EU is really, really important. “

Stephens added that a UK exit from the EU would “complicate” the joint role that the UK and Ireland play in supporting the closer ties with Northern Ireland that have played a big role in ending 30 years of violence with the 1998 Good Friday peace accords. “That would be disrupted if the UK were to leave the EU,” Stephens said. “We’re absolutely committed to the EU staying inside.”

All the of the public officials stressed that there are no deals on the verge of happening, and that it takes awhile for substantive business relationships to form. But Stephens said that there are Irish business interests already flourishing in Florida.

That includes Kerrygold Irish Butter, which Stephens claimed was the biggest selling foreign butter in the U.S.

Under Mayor Buckhorn, trade relations with countries in South and Central America has been a prime focus, but he says he wants Tampa to “plant its flag across the globe.”

“We can do better than that,” he said. “We are a natural player as a result of our location, to be the gateway to as many as 30 million people.” He stressed that such partnerships involve human-to-human contact, which is why he makes as many trips as he does overseas to enhance the region’s economic prowess.

“You don’t get this business by sending emails,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “You get it by going to where you want to do business and establishing a personal relationships where folks learn to trust each other, and so that’s why it’s important that me and other elected officials and business leaders, get on those airplanes and go make those introductions and start those relationships.”

The South Dublin contingent will remain in town until Thursday, with a trip to Bern’s Steakhouse scheduled within the next couple of nights.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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