US Economic Envoy Declan Kelly has told  business leaders in Northern Ireland that they need to seize the initiative and make economic progress happen there.

In a hard hitting speech he said  ‘You, the  private sector must be the driving force behind this change.”

“The time for insular thinking is over.  The profile of the Northern Ireland economy has to become more private-sector driven as a matter of urgency  -- not because of economic crisis, but economic opportunity.” Kelly said at  a Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Belfast.

“Irrespective of who is in government or how hard they work, political leaders can only make so much change happen quickly, especially in a place where the very institutions of government are as new, as they are in Northern Ireland.

“So my message is simple:  Our governments are doing whatever they can to help keep moving forward in a difficult situation  but history all over the world has shown that long term growth and seismic changes in economic profiles of the magnitude we would all like to have happen in Northern Ireland can only take place when the private sector plays a pivotal and dominant leadership role.”

Kelly told the leaders that “ It will be a huge missed opportunity if we don’t make it happen."

He also stated that Northern Ireland’s young demographic was a key factor for the future.

“More than anything else they are betting on your young people.  You have one of the youngest populations in the world under 25 --  Its time to start taking advantage of that position.  You have to have the courage to take risks, increase hiring and bet on your culture.  Believe in the opportunity because it is there for you if you want it.”

He pointed out that American business was very much behind the new Northern ireland.

“Last October, at the U.S. – NI Economic Conference 2010 in Washington D.C. that I organized on behalf of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, over 30 U.S. business leaders came together with over $1 trillion in combined value to discuss increased opportunities for business between the United States and Northern Ireland.

“CEOs, many from Fortune 500 companies, talked about their positive experiences here and particularly of the extraordinary skilled workforce and quality of the young people graduating from the universities – skills and education were named as the main factors for investment.

Executives also emphasized that the engineering, and math and sciences students they had hired were among the best they had worked with around the world.

“The combination of these factors, in my opinion, creates a unique business environment and quality location that can’t be easily replicated anywhere else, and is an advantage that the region must continue to develop and leverage.”

Kelly stated it was up to business in Northern Ireland to take the lead.

“There is no doubt in my mind that there may be severe consequences if the private sector does not take matters into its own hands and start to reverse the negative economic trends. The private sector cannot stand by and wait for change to come.

“What you do, and how you take advantage of the opportunities that will present themselves, will have a fundamental impact on the future of the region’s economy for the next decade and beyond.

“You must realize that a transformation of the Northern Ireland economy needs to take place, and it needs to start immediately. You, the private sector must be the driving force behind this change.”