In a flux of worldwide geo-political tension, Ireland must maintain competitiveness to continue to win FDI, says Executive Director of IDA Ireland, Mary Buckley.
Following on from the best year in the organisation’s history, IDA are confident that Ireland will continue to attract clients from around the globe, despite a turbulent geo-political atmosphere bringing a global dampening of FDI investments. Executive Director with responsibility for the implementation of IDA Ireland’s Corporate Strategy, Winning FDI 2015 – 2019, Mary Buckley says that while across the world there is political uncertainty; Ireland is proving to be a stable location for FDI.
“If you look at what’s going on in the world, some countries have more uncertainty today but Ireland is seen as a stable location and businesses like certainty. I think Ireland has won FDI for a number of reasons,” she explains from her Dublin base. “We do have over 1300 FDI companies from across the globe, located in Ireland, and that is critically important. We have pro business policies and during the latter half of last year what has become more important for our prospective clients has been our committed membership of the EU. As a result of our membership, we have access to the European single market of 500 million people.”
As a member of the Executive Leadership Team at IDA Ireland, Mary Buckley has experience across the board, Mary has held senior leadership positions in the organisation over the past 11 years. From 2006 to 2010 she was the Director of IDA Ireland’s North American operation, leading the team in winning investments across all business sectors. Prior to her relocation to New York, Mary was Director of the South Region based in Cork. This wealth of experience gives her an in depth knowledge of Ireland as a business proposition, and where we stand going forward.
In January, IDA announced the highest level of employment in its client companies in its history. Total employment in overseas companies now stands at 199,877 people, the highest level on record. IDA Ireland has completed two years of its five year strategy, Winning: Foreign Direct Investment 2015-2019 – with the latest results indicating a strong performance by the organisation towards delivering its 2019 target of 80,000 new jobs and 900 investments. While there is significant uncertainty ahead, Mary Buckley says that the most important thing to remember is that companies choose Ireland for a reason.
“Our education system ranks very highly on a worldwide scale, and we have one of the best participation rates in the whole of Europe,” she states. “Along with having overseas companies here, it is that depth of talent that is a huge drive. We have a very large pool of talented, flexible and innovative people. Our borders are open and we have access to a 250 million strong workforce who can come and go freely from here.”
With strong sectors like Financial Services, Technology and Life Sciences firmly in construction mode, now is the time to nurture the relationships with the longstanding FDI clients we host here in Ireland, says the Executive Director. “The majority of our announcements are from our existing client base. These companies know Ireland, who they trust what we can do and how we do things. Our reputation is good, and that stands to us.”
The IDA attracts companies to Ireland, but once they are here, the organisation works with them to expand their activities so that they are growing and evolving from Ireland internationally. This is an essential part of their business, says Mary Buckley. “We work to retain and transform the companies here and that’s something that people may not be aware of. Many FDI companies in Ireland are not carrying out the same activities as when they first arrived in Ireland. They may have come to Ireland twenty years ago, and in order to further their own growth and the changing business models, companies must innovate and expand their offerings and may need to source a suitable location to carry out the activity- that’s where we come in.”
Buckley points to IBM, Apple and Pfizer as longstanding FDI clients who have expanded their activities above their initial manufacturing leg of the business. “Apple has 6,000 people employed in Cork and while they may have originally started with a manufacturing remit today it is Apple’s only global corporate headquarters outside the US. The majority of employees working there are now engaged in non-manufacturing roles such as finance, supply chain management and customer support- a small piece of the operation in Cork is manufacturing. Apple has applied for planning to construct a data centre in Athenry too. Business is constantly evolving and our clients need to respond and adapt, to be sustainable. For example, we encourage companies to develop new mandates to updates their employees’ skills and encourage those companies involved in high-tech manufacturing in Ireland to add RD&I, which is complementary function.”
The Irish Construction Industry is critical to the success of IDA, and indeed of Ireland as a whole, says Buckley. “It is essential for both Ireland Inc and for the business of IDA, which is attracting overseas companies to Ireland,” she maintains. “Its role is something that IDA feels is a key tool in winning investments in Ireland. It’s quite a complex sector, is very multifaceted and often includes requirements around client-centric engineered property solutions, cost effective solutions, flexible design and planning for Greenfield site developments or in respect of the next generation infrastructure to support the ever changing needs of mobile FDI. Our overseas clients have different needs and the Irish Construction Industry’s ability to meet those needs is a key strength of ours. The industry is well regarded internationally and that’s very important, the critical point now is in the industry’s ability to evolve and transform and adapt to meet the ever changing requirements of FDI clients.”
In order to continue to attract the level of investment we currently enjoy, it is more important to avoid complacency, according to Buckley. “We have to remain competitive in all its forms because we are competing with other locations around the world to win and retain FDI. Every company that decides to expand internationally carries out extensive due diligence and they have a number of criteria, so it is important that we have best in class solutions for our clients. We can never become complacent; we are in a highly competitive environment.”
For this reason, she says it is essential for the construction industry to remain as competitive and up skilled as possible. “Innovative solutions like Lean, LEED and BIM and the highest standards of health and safety are extremely important to our clients and in the area of sustainability, increasingly so. It is essential to continue to work collaboratively with FDI clients and ensure that they have good relationships and along with that comes good aftercare of clients, ensuring that they are happy in the long term.”
The uncertainty of the world political stage offers us opportunities and challenges, says the Executive Director. “The political uncertainty we are seeing will obviously have an effect on FDI globally and a knock on effect of FDI flows – there is no doubt about that. This scenario also offers opportunities following the Brexit vote in the UK.. We conduct extensive marketing of Ireland across the globe through our network of overseas offices – and we have strong offerings.” Through their worldwide campaign, IDA has identified a number of reasons why companies want to locate in Ireland. “Yes, tax is a reason for companies to consider Ireland but talent availability is always a winning reason, explains Buckley.” “We have the right pool of people in addition to the fact that companies need new markets and we provide that access to the EU. Recently this year Microsoft announced plans to hire 600 people for its Inside Sales Centre in Dublin and Indeed created 500 jobs in the capital city.We have over 1300 companies in Ireland and about 70% of those companies are from the US with increasing wins from our Growth Markets territory. That track record is strong so we are confident that Ireland will remain attractive to overseas clients. We always need to enhance our value proposition in order to retain and grow FDI.”
IDA’s current strategy has a large focus on Regions with a recent focus on constructing buildings in regions around the country. So far, says Buckley, the initiative has been a success. “It’s government policy and also a key action under the Government’s Action Plan for Jobs. Our strategy highlighted a target of an increase of 30% to 40% in investments in Regions outside Dublin with Dublin continuing to attract similar high levels of investments for Dublin, and we have committed to these ambitious targets. 59% of all jobs created by IDA client companies are outside Dublin so we’ve been very focused on winning investments into regional locations.” While there continues to be a global trend towards FDI favouring large urban centres, IDA statistics continue to show the strength and resilience of FDI in regional locations.
In 2016, IDA saw some extremely high profile clients moving into the regions. In Cork, Cylance established its cybersecurity EMEA Operations with Opening of an office in Cork which will generate approximately 150 job opportunities over the next three years. Fazzi Healthcare Services established a new Irish based coding and healthcare services Company in Limerick, creating 300 jobs over five years. Also in Limerick, Uber established its Centre of Excellence in Limerick and in Nenagh, First Data is to establish an R&D Centre, which will house up to 300 highly skilled employees, while Shire announced plans to expand its global biotech manufacturing capacity with an investment of US$400m and creating 400 new positions upon completion of its project in Piercetown, Co. Meath. Galway continues to prove itself as a Tech hub with Wayfair Inc. (NYSE:W), one of the world’s largest online destinations for home furnishings and décor, announcing the expansion of its multi-lingual European Operations Centre in Galway creating approximately 160 new jobs.
In order to support the winning, of new business into the country, IDA are operating a property programme that’s taking place in regions, where they are constructing purpose-built properties on a speculative basis. “The private sector weren’t constructing in the regions at the time we commenced this programme, so we have a construction programme in locations around the country,” explains Mary Buckley. “The buildings are leed certified and anywhere from 25-40,000 ft2. We are building a mix of advance technology buildings and office buildings at present in Tralee, Castlebar and Sligo and have completed facilities in Waterford and Athlone.” says Buckley. “In Dublin there is about 4 million ft2 of premium office space coming on stream in the next twelve to eighteen months. Around the country it’s been slower, so from our perspective, we needed to get involved in construction in order to help attract FDI clients to the regions. A company needs to be able to see facilities they can potentially occupy, and they need choice, so that’s what we are putting in place.”
As long as Ireland continues to perform in a manner that is best in class, then we will continue to attract FDI, says Mary Buckley. “Our value proposition is very strong, we have the people and we have the talent. From the construction industry’s point of view, it is extremely well-regarded world-wide and by remaining competitive and maintaining standards of excellence and client relationships we can look forward to inviting more longstanding FDI clients to Ireland.”