CIDO CE, Brian Hunter, is keen to partner more closely with Craigavon’s American relatives - and they are equally impressed with business models here

Brian Hunter, Chief Executive of CIDO, gives a presentation in LaGrange.

Brian Hunter, Chief Executive of CIDO, gives a presentation in LaGrange.

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CIDO Chief Executive, Brian Hunter, recently paved the way for new business opportunities with Craigavon’s American Sister City.

Brian flew to LaGrange, which is located in the US State of Georgia, after receiving an invitation from the city’s Mayor and local Council.

Mayor of LaGrange, Jim Thornton, during a visit to Craigavon Civic Centre last year.

Mayor of LaGrange, Jim Thornton, during a visit to Craigavon Civic Centre last year.

LaGrange Mayor, Jim Thornton, visited Craigavon in 2014 and was extremely impressed with the Carn-based CIDO (Craigavon Industrial Development Organisation) Innovation Centre and the exciting developments that were unfolding there.

“Jim Thornton and Andy Camp - a development specialist - visited CIDO last year and they loved what they saw,” said Brian. “They loved the enthusiasm here - so much so that they invited me personally for some mutual learning and to exchange ideas on incubators.”

CIDO was one of the first enterprise agencies established in Northern Ireland in 1985, and its Innovation Centre in Carn is known as a mixed-use incubator. As a business incubator, CIDO has helped kickstart a huge range of businesses, as well as developing existing businesses - all under one roof. By accommodating clients in low cost rental spaces, providing workshops and business clinics, and developing personal skills, the CIDO Innovation Centre helped to start 282 businesses last year.

During his visit to LaGrange, Brian had the opportunity to connect with a range of people who share similar visions for businesses in their area - and many were eager to adopt an incubator model similar to CIDO.

“I visited The Burson Center, the third best incubator in the world,” said Mr Hunter. “They were really impressed by what we do at CIDO.

“One of the projects I shared there was Nourish, which was founded by CIDO to create a healthy food partnership across the UK and Europe. Nourish definitely struck a chord - especially with LaGrange organic farmer, Ricky Wolfe, who was keen to hear about it as nutrition is an increasing priority in the US. The Burson Center is eager to collaborate with CIDO on the Nourish Programme, and they have the relationships and funding to potentially get involved.”

He also visited the Interface Awarehouse, whose sister plant Interface is based in Lurgan.

During his trip, which was organised and flights paid for by the Craigavon Sister City International Committee, Mr Hunter realised the potential for business students in Craigavon to benefit from the transatlantic links.

“I was given a tour of West Georgia Technical College and the THINC College and Career Academy,” he explained. “It doesn’t get much better than the Tech - they’re incredibly innovative and ‘hands on’ - and it would be incredible to establish a student exchange between THINC and the Southern Regional College.”

Mr Hunter believes there is great potential in Craigavon’s relationship with its Sister City, LaGrange, and that it should be explored in more depth - particularly where business and economic ventures are concerned.

“The trip was a great opportunity to export our talent and expertise,” he said. “We have to continue the reinforcement of economic and business linkages with LaGrange. The Sister City links should not be allowed to die - we have got to develop those relationships.”

Mayor of LaGrange, Jim Thornton, echoed Brian’s sentiment and is looking forward to exploring new potential.

“Every member of the LaGrange City Council that has visited Craigavon over the years has been impressed with CIDO,” said Mr Thorton. “During his week in LaGrange, Brian was able to connect with most of the city officials and with many business and education leaders in our area. He shared the CIDO story and current success, as well as compared notes with some preliminary efforts to start an incubator system in LaGrange.

“We were able to learn a great deal from Brian and from the experience in Craigavon. We are currently looking for locations and developing a financial plan for an incubator system in LaGrange. As those details come, we are going to vet them by Brian and others in Craigavon who have more experience in this area.

“This project is one example of the mutual benefits of our sister-city relationship. It is useful to have the exchange between our communities.”