Equine industry connects sister cities across the pond
Ireland’s Racing Academy and Centre of Education
Many Florida communities have sister cities programs that foster cultural exchange and international good will. But Ocala’s “twin town” program with Newbridge, Ireland, also has a strong commercial theme that’s beginning to pay off.
Newbridge is in County Kildare, in central-east Ireland southwest of Dublin. Ocala officials first became interested in the town because “thoroughbreds are such a way of life there, just like here,” says Donna Delahunty, who coordinates Ocala’s program along with her husband, Irishman Richard Delahunty. But they soon saw many other parallels. Like Ocala, Newbridge relies on manufacturing; it is home to the famous Newbridge Silver plant. It also has significant natural amenities to protect and promote tourism.
The cities made their twinning plan official with an agreement in early 2009. Since then, political and industry groups have made several trips between the two. (Ocala has relied on private donations to send groups, and Newbridge’s equine industry is funding its representatives’ travel.)
Now, Delahunty says, some of the tourism, sports and other economic-development benefits are beginning to show. The program has put together several business-to-business contacts through the Newbridge Chamber of Commerce and the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association. North Florida thoroughbred breeders have made contacts at Kildangan Stud, the horse farm owned by Sheikh Mohammed, the equine enthusiast who is ruler of Dubai.
Newbridge Mayor Mick Deely says that, like Ocala, his town is suffering because of a housing bust and bank collapse. He told the Kildare Nationalist newspaper the twinning project is helping Newbridge’s horse racing, horse breeding and horse husbandry sectors. Graduates of Ireland’s major academy for horse racing, the Racing Academy and Centre of Education, worked on Ocala horse farms this year. Next, students from the College of Central Florida’s equine program will work there. In 2011, youth soccer clubs from both cities will travel to their twin city for tournaments.