Everyone in Savannah is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, but our celebration of Irish heritage is evergreen. During the Irish famine of the mid-1800’s, Savannah was an attractive destination for Irish families seeking a new start. Many of the same things we celebrate about Savannah today made this a great place for Irish settlers, such as a world-class port, quality of life, creative talent and economic opportunity. For several years, we sent ships of goods to Ireland, and they sent ships of settlers back to us. These immigrants were welcomed warmly and lauded for their many societal contributions. Today, the roots of Irish heritage in Savannah can be tangibly experienced in street names, culture of hospitality and the shared industrious nature of our communities.
Since 2014, a series of high-level visits between County Wexford, Ireland, and Savannah successfully occurred. These visits were organized to gain a better understanding of our substantial historical links and to explore possible joint venture prospects going forward. Teams in Wexford and Savannah joined together within a new targeted international project titled TradeBridge, designed specifically to drive economic development and international trade between both regions, countries and continents.
In 2019, TradeBridge graduated from pilot project to fully funded program. Here in the U.S., I serve as the representative on the ground at World Trade Center Savannah (WTCSav), working closely with a reciprocal representative in Wexford focused on the development of Wexford/Savannah trade and investment opportunities. As this program matures, the vision is for both sides of the program to operate regionally.
Most recently, WTCSav had the great honor of hosting nearly 30 delegates from Ireland to spend time in Savannah for St. Patrick’s Day. The team hosted representatives from Limerick City and County Council, Wexford County Council, Wexford Enterprise Association, the Consulate General of Ireland in Atlanta and the government of Ireland represented by Irish Minister for Justice Helen McEntee.
During this celebratory week, the Limerick delegation, led by Mayor Daniel Butler, spent time with the City of Savannah discussing infrastructure and development, networked with WTCSav board members and enjoyed a walking tour of Savannah’s historic district.
The Wexford delegation, led by Chair Barbara-Anne Murphy and Mayor Garry Laffan, also enjoyed a full agenda of meetings, networking and industry tours. Notably during this visit, Wexford County Council signed an official partnership agreement with the City of Savannah, a culmination of many years of relationship development.
The diplomatic delegation, led by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, took the floor for public remarks during the Wexford-Savannah signing ceremony as well as during the Jasper Green ceremonies. Their dispatch to Savannah is a significant nod from Irish government we were most delighted to receive.
All groups joined the Jasper Green Parade and ceremony, walked in the Savannah St. Patrick’s Day parade, met with Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, heard from SEDA and the Savannah Regional Film Commission staff, met with WTCSav regional partners and toured Georgia Ports Authority. World Trade Center Savannah is proud to have managed the agenda and hosted each delegation for this visit.
And finally, it is fitting that March is both the month we celebrate Irish history and the month we celebrate women’s history. I admire my Irish colleagues for their commitment to inclusion and their very intentional elevation of talented, qualified and capable women to leadership positions. As we look toward the future economic development relationship between southeast Georgia and southeast Ireland, we have many women to thank for their visionary leadership in nurturing this relationship from an idea to reality including Brynn Grant, Carolyne Godkin, Liz Hore, Martina Furlong, Edwina Colfer, Kathleen Codd-Nolan, Sarah Kiely, Laura Flannery, Alison Stone-Thompson, Laura Moore, Leigh Ryan, Annalee Ashley, Kendria Lee, Megan Dwyer-Ryan, Barbara-Anne Murphy, Shelley Nickel, Minister Helen McEntee, Emma McHugh, Caoimhe NiChonChuir, Eimear Nolan, Nejmia Ahmed and the many other women who have taken a share of responsibility as this relationship has developed and continues to grow.
World Trade Center Savannah exists to create jobs and attract investment. We accomplish this goal by helping regional companies grow internationally and promoting our region as an attractive destination for foreign direct investment. However, when there is a literal world of opportunities – you do business with people you know and trust. Savannah’s deep shared history with Ireland makes business with Ireland even more compelling.
Jessie Jenkins is the World Trade Center Savannah Director of Research and Trade Development. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org