Archive for the ‘Thales and Alsthom’ Tag

US connections

Sitting in St Cedma’s Parish Church, Larne, for a family wedding on a glorious July day this year and waiting for the bride to enter, late as is the tradition, my eye was drawn to one of the beautiful stained glass windows. I should explain before I go any further that this little church has an ancient and interesting thousand year history.This building dates from 1350 and so is the second oldest building in continuous use in Co Antrim. Anyway, the window in question is dedicated to the Houston family and I realised, from a little internet surfing on smart phone, that this could well be the same family as spawned Sam Houston of Texan fame and which created an early electrical engineering firm, Thompson-Houston, in the mid-1800s. As one internet wag has it, the first words from the moon were Ulster Scots; “Houston, the eagle has landed!” That firm through merger and take-over survives within global corporations such as GE, Thales and Alsthom. Marking the family is great, of course, but often I think we hide our great Ulster engineering lights, not just under bushels but under mountains.
Of course we are infamous as a people for looking back; so at least I should attempt to set the record straight, as far as entrepreneurial activity is concerned. Today we aim to export our ideas with added value, not just our people, and a few nuggets which might interest are:
The President of the US has at his disposal, in the White House and in Airforce 1 and hopefully never to be used, the latest in portable defibrillators from Northern Ireland from a graduate company of the Science Park in east Belfast, that has direct lineage to Frank Pantridge, the Ulster inventor of the device.
In west Belfast, another company, that owes its technology to astronomy and the search for exo-planets, has developed laser-based microscopes that are used at Harvard Medical School directly to observe the antics of the chromosomes inside living cells. I regret that the science park was too young to have helped that company get going from its start as a University spin-out but delighted none the less to report that its founder is often with us as he is getting his second creation into the market place.
In counties Antrim, Armagh and Down several pharmaceutical firms have been developed from scratch that today each employ hundreds (in one case thousands) of US workers to claim a piece of that lucrative but notoriously difficult market place. I love the idea that some of the sheep around Lough Neagh that you might spot from the plane and among the highest value-adding workers in Northern Ireland.
From the west of Ulster, Terrex helps keep the miners of the world supplied with the best of kit to keep us all supplied with our never-ending demand for the earth’s resources.
Meanwhile, a Ballymena business has developed from one-of-many coach builders into a near-unique,globally-ranked provider of rapid transit systems, supplying among other cities, Las Vegas. The StreetCars float past little St Cedma’s on their way to the port, probably not even pausing to think that down below is a record of just how long we’ve been at the game of engineering entrepreneurship. This is so much more important and of note than the few hundred kids who haven’t yet realised that we have traditions older and more fulfilling than recreational rioting in July.

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