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Irish ambassador to talk business, lead parade on trip to Charlotte

St. Patrick, otherwise known as Doug Farley, grabs the attention of two of the Federal family group who marched in the parade in 2015.
St. Patrick, otherwise known as Doug Farley, grabs the attention of two of the Federal family group who marched in the parade in 2015. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Ireland’s ambassador to the U.S. has two tasks on her plate when she visits Charlotte this weekend: Connect with local business leaders and lead the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.

“We’re making a very special effort this year to connect to Irish communities,” said Anne Anderson, in an interview with the Observer. This year is the 100-year anniversary of the Easter rebellion in 1916, which is seen as the start of events that led to Irish independence.

Anderson said her embassy estimates there are about 120,000 people of Irish or Scots-Irish descent in Mecklenburg County. She visited the city last year and said she was impressed by Charlotte’s “dynamism.”

“We made a very conscious, strategic decision a few years back to focus on the South,” said Anderson. “It’s a high-growth area, and there are potential synergies.”

Economic areas where Ireland and North Carolina overlap include financial services, healthcare and technology, Anderson said. Software firm Red Hat has an Irish office. In Charlotte, Ingersoll-Rand’s U.S. corporate offices are in Davidson, though the company’s global headquarters are in Swords, Ireland. On Saturday, before the parade, Anderson is holding a roundtable meeting with business leaders at the Charlotte Chamber.

One issue that’s become increasingly prominent this campaign year is corporate inversion, a practice where U.S. companies merge with an offshore firm to relocate their headquarters to a lower-tax country. Ireland has been a popular destination for such transactions, such as the $160 billion Pfizer-Allergan merger announced last year.

Anderson said she has been following the debate about corporate inversions, which are a target for U.S. politicians on both sides of the aisle. She said Ireland doesn’t want to be known as a tax haven.

“We have seen the increasing debate about inversions,” she said. “We’re very clear about a few things. The kind of investment we want to attract to Ireland is a substantial, job-creating investment.”

Anderson said Ireland isn’t interested in deals solely structured to reduce a company’s taxes: “Never have been, never will be.”

“An inversion that is not grounded in significant job-creating investment is not of interest to us,” she said. Instead of fighting to keep companies from moving headquarters out of the U.S., however, Anderson said the U.S. should focus on reforming its corporate tax code and lowering rates so companies don’t want to move.

“We’re not out there seeking to attract inversions. We see it very much as a feature of the U.S. tax system,” she said. “It’s push, not pull.”

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo

Want to see the parade?

This year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade is scheduled to start at 11 a.m. Saturday. The parade route starts at Ninth and Tryon Streets. For more information, go to http://www.charlottestpatsday.com/.

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