Ireland-based plastics company Mergon is no stranger to the United States. Since 1998, its South Carolina manufacturing plant has made plastics for automotive and industrial manufacturers and suppliers. Healthcare plastics comprise a smaller part of Mergon’s business.

When the global economy tumbled in 2008, Mergon saw its industrial and automotive orders slow down. But healthcare held steady, said Caolan Bushell, a Mergon business development manager based in Ireland.

Today, making plastics for healthcare applications is solid business for Mergon in Europe. But Bushell, who spent seven years working from the firm’s South Carolina plant, said there’s no reason Mergon can’t see similar growth in the United States.

“The U.S. healthcare market is obviously a very large market,” he said.

Mergon was one of about 60 Irish companies participating in a trade mission visiting the southeastern United States last week.

Coordinated by Enterprise Ireland, a business development agency of the Irish government, the delegation visited Miami and Atlanta before finishing in North Carolina, where its stopped in Research Triangle Park and Charlotte.

U.S. companies have viewed Ireland as a gateway to Europe and the country has operations for companies such as Boston Scientific (NYSE:BSX) and Medtronic (NYSE:MDT). Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) maintains major manufacturing operations in the port city of Cork helping to make Ireland one of the world’s top pharmaceutical exporters.

Enterprise Ireland works to send Irish innovation abroad. Eddie Goodwin, Enterprise Ireland’s Boston-based vice president of life sciences, notes that while 90,000 Irish workers are employed in Ireland by U.S. firms, 85,000 U.S. workers are working in the United States for Irish companies.

“It’s quite a two-way street,” Goodwin said.

Enterprise Ireland helps Irish companies set up offices abroad and also develop the contacts and partnerships that could grow their businesses in places such as the United States. Those connections could involve commercialized products, such as the healthcare plastics business that Mergon is pursuing.

Goodwin said R&D opportunities are also growing. Dublin-based Innopharmalabs, a two-year-old startup, aims to place its particle imaging system with U.S. universities and pharma companies. John O’Connell, U.S. technology manager for the company, said some U.S. universities are using Innopharmlab’s system for research and the company has prospects for pharma clients. Pharma companies can use the technology for both research as well as production, where it can be a quality control tool to monitor pharmaceutical manufacturing.

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