CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Coal is West Virginia's largest export to Ireland, said Peter Ryan, deputy consul general for economic and public affairs in Ireland's New York City office, who visited West Virginia last week.
"We buy coal from the U.S. to fuel our plants. But we are thinking about changing to natural gas. We also have a massive possibility for wind energy on our west coast, as well as an ability to capture energy from ocean tides and waves."
Today, Ireland's operations in West Virginia include Oldcastle Inc., a subsidiary of CRH, headquartered in Dublin. Oldcastle is a leading North American manufacturer of concrete, masonry, lawn and garden, clay brick and paving products.
"We would like to do more business with West Virginia," Ryan said. "Even the smallest companies in Ireland must think globally. Our domestic market is too small."
A total of 500 American companies operate in Ireland, employing between 60,000 and 100,000 people, while 250 Irish companies operate in America, employing 100,000 people.
Other countries have invested nearly $200 billion in Ireland since 2000.
"Irish companies are also investing in foreign countries. We have only 1 percent of Europe's population, but are the 13th largest investor in Europe."
Computer technology is a major part of Ireland's economic relations with other countries.
"Today, Ireland is the number one exporter of pre-packaged software. Google, IBM and Dell all have offices here. Dell once assembled laptops in Ireland, but then moved to Poland where it was cheaper. But Dell still has offices, staff and investors that operate here.
"Microsoft looked at 80 countries around the world and decided to open an office here. Our diversity and talent attracts companies like Microsoft."
Ryan believes Ireland's tax rate appeals to both domestic and foreign investors. "We have a 12.5 percent tax rate for all companies."
Those tax rates, Ryan added, have also attracted American companies to manufacture pharmaceuticals in Ireland, such as Viagra, Botox and Lipitor.
Ireland operates five consulates in the United States. The one in New York oversees business relations between Ireland and states including West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and New York.
"In West Virginia," Ryan said, "15.2 percent of the population feels they have some Irish [ancestral] connection -- the fourth highest in the United States.
"In West Virginia, you see Irish flags flying side by side with American flags."