Vaughan Gething MS, Minister for Economy
I recently undertook a three-day visit to the USA, travelling to Atlanta, Georgia and Birmingham, Alabama to promote our economic ties and strengthen our unique cultural bonds. The visit included the signing of an International Friendship Pact between Wales and Birmingham, and meetings with businesses and economic institutions from the region. I also met with prominent US, State and City officials and leaders from Alabama’s civil rights movement. As part of the visit, I spoke alongside US Supreme Court Justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson, at the invitation of the 16th Street Baptist Church as they commemorated the 60th anniversary of the racist bombing of their church; an act of hate which claimed the lives of four young girls.
The links between Wales and Birmingham are steeped in history and stem from the Welsh public’s response to the bombing on 15 September 1963 in which four young black girls were murdered and the church suffered significant damage. As a gesture of solidarity with the African American community in Birmingham, the people of Wales raised funds for the creation of a stained-glass window for the church, designed by Welsh artist John Petts and depicting a black crucified Christ. The ‘Wales Window’ was dedicated in 1965 and is still a central part of the 16th Street Baptist Church community. The Welsh contribution to the ceremony also allowed us to pay tribute to the enduring legacy of the campaign for racial justice that Birmingham was so prominent in advancing and to reflect upon the way in which their sacrifices have inspired people of colour across the world, including here in Wales.
On arrival in Atlanta, I met with the British Consul General to discuss the economic landscape in the southern states and the opportunities that exist to boost trade and investment links with Welsh businesses. This was followed by a meeting with Airbus, a key investor in Wales, to understand how the sites in Broughton and Alabama exchange best practice, innovation and talent. I was particularly interested in hearing how we can work together to promote STEM careers and workforce development opportunities in North Wales, identifying several opportunities which can be taken forward. I also had the opportunity to visit Moneypenny, a Welsh customer communications company with its US headquarters in Atlanta, take a tour of its new facility and explore what advice Moneypenny has for other Welsh companies seeking to establish an operation in the USA. I met with Welsh Government envoy, La-Chun Lindsay, to discuss the work she has been doing on behalf of Wales and our engagement strategy for the US for the year ahead. My final engagement in Atlanta was a roundtable discussion on inclusive growth and minority entrepreneurship, hosted by the Progressive Policy Institute, with insights provided by entrepreneurs, industry experts, and officials from local to federal government.
After travelling to Birmingham, the focus for Friday was on the commemoration service for the 60th anniversary of the church bombing and meeting the friends and families of victims. It was an honour to be able to provide a message of friendship and solidarity from Wales at a service of truly national significance in the USA. Wales and Birmingham have forged a long-standing and meaningful relationship over the last six decades, culminating in the signing of an International Friendship Pact with the city of Birmingham. The Pact will foster stronger connections enhancing cultural exchanges, supporting opportunities for stronger economic growth, and creating mutual benefits for both regions across the key areas of Arts and Culture, Life Sciences and Healthcare, and Education.
As a symbol of our friendship, Mayor Randall Woodfin and I also dedicated four trees in Kelly Ingram Park, symbolising the memory of the four girls who were murdered - Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Morris Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair. As part of the tree dedication, I unveiled a commemorative plaque which marks the 60 years of friendship between Wales and Birmingham. I also had the honour of visiting the home of Lisa McNair, sister of Denise, to present a gift to the family on behalf of the people of Wales.
I attended an economic roundtable at the Innovation Depot in Birmingham with local economic leaders to identify potential areas of economic collaboration and partnership opportunities, and to discuss how we might monitor the progress of the International Friendship Pact. We agreed ways of working and identified promising opportunities for early activity to be taken forward over the coming weeks. I also met Tquila Automation, a Texas-based automation consultancy and investor in Wales, which recently expanded to Birmingham, AL. Throughout our discussions with business voices, experts and elected officials, I focussed primarily on Wales’ areas of comparative market strength in the US market – such as life sciences, tech, advanced manufacturing and creative industries – and lessons on what works in helping people from disadvantaged backgrounds to become successful entrepreneurs.
On the final day in Birmingham, I participated in a panel session at the historic Sloss Furnaces with leading activists from the Birmingham civil rights movement. This was an opportunity to discuss lived experiences and the actions that we are taking in Wales and Alabama to combat racism – including the Anti-Racist Wales Action Plan. The session was also attended by young people from the Urdd, who were in Birmingham to learn about civil rights and promote their 2023 Peace and Goodwill message about anti-racism.
Finally, there was an opportunity to bring together partners who had supported the visit and developed the Friendship Pact. Birmingham Sister Cities hosted a reception for key stakeholders across business, education, and culture in the Birmingham and Wales partnership. The event was an opportunity to spend time with young volunteers from the Urdd alongside civil rights activists and the partners responsible for delivering our collaborative activities. The International Friendship Pact and the surrounding events reaffirmed the joint commitment at both the political and community level to drive the relationship forward.
These engagements were followed by a visit to the Senedd by the US Ambassador to the UK, H.E. Jane D. Hartley, on 20 September. Ambassador Hartley discussed the Birmingham Commemoration and expressed interest in supporting efforts to strengthen the bonds between both communities to help sustain a positive legacy for people in Wales and the USA.