Minister bids to lure US tech jobs

First Minister Rhodri Morgan has used a visit to California to launch a drive to lure American business to Wales.

He is heading a delegation to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Silicon Valley to convince American investors to bring New Economy companies to the Welsh Valleys and other areas.

Mr Morgan has been on a week-long charm offensive in the Golden State meeting business leaders and Welsh ex-patriates, whom he has called on to become “unpaid ambassadors,” promoting the land of their fathers to their new countrymen.

Over the weekend, he addressed ex-pats at the Festival of Wales event, which featured an eisteddfod and a traditional Welsh banquet in San Jose, in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Knowledge economy

Mr Morgan, who has frequently spoken of his desire to model the Welsh business environment on the entrepreneurial knowledge economy of the valley, talked to businesspeople and US journalists to press the case for Welsh investment.

In a frantic round of appointments, he shuttled between television studios and lunches in San Francisco Bay, the epicentre of the region.

Last Friday, he fielded questions about Wales in a live phone-in on the KQED radio station in the area.

And he told one financial news network: “Many people don’t know that fibre optics were first manufactured in Wales over 30 years ago.

“We’ve got the makings, but we’re not there yet. We want to become like the Bay Area.”

Jobs move

Mr Morgan currently holds the Economic Development portfolio in the Welsh Assembly and is a graduate of Harvard University in the US.

Down the road from San Jose and the hi-tech manufacturing companies of the Valley, San Francisco’s Bay Area boasts a rash of top companies.

Mr Morgan looked at ease and confident Wales’s economy could be restructured along similar lines.

“This is the area for the knowledge economy, but that doesn’t exclude conventional factory output coming, but that would be very indirectly.

“If you want to move in to the knowledge economy, you have to understand what is going on in the Bay Area of northern California.”

Effort needed

Wales is lagging at the foot of the internet take-up league and Welsh businesses are the least likely in the UK to use information and communication technology.

But the assembly wants to supplant Wales’s traditional manufacturing sector with dynamic, knowledge-based jobs.

Welshman David Evans of Deloitte and Touche Accountants in the US said: “It is a terrific market; it is a very competitive market.

“But it’s absolutely a market that Welsh companies – given good planning, a good approach – can be very successful in.”

Roger Thomas of Cardiff has headed the British Consulate in the heart of San Francisco’s financial district for a month.

He said: “We help traditional British companies selling exports to the west coast of America.

“But the other side of that job has great attractions for us and that is to attract American companies to the UK.”

The information economy the world over has experienced a relative slump over the last year with the crash in confidence in hi-tech companies.

But, as the Welsh crusade for American investment stepped up, Mr Morgan said Wales offered a good alternative.