Czech out your prospects in the brightest star of Central Europe
Published 05/06/2016 | 02:30
In 2015, Ireland was the fastest-growing EU economy. If we skip Malta and Luxembourg, next in line - with 4.2pc GDP growth - was the Czech Republic.
Only two hours by direct flight from Dublin, the Czech Republic, with a population of 10.5 million, is probably best known for short breaks to its magical capital city Prague, Skoda cars, excellent beer and great tennis players.
But it is also an economy on an upward curve - and therefore opportunities for Irish business are on the rise.
Eurostat data on GDP and purchasing power shows the Prague region of the Czech Republic is the ninth most prosperous in the EU.
The region has attracted many multinational investors, mainly in automotive, engineering, electronics and IT. Industry now accounts for 47.3pc of the commercial economy, making the Czech Republic the most industrialised country in the EU.
Multinationals and home-grown businesses are always looking for new suppliers and innovative solutions. So windows of opportunity are open for Irish manufacturers of technologies, engineered parts and materials, specialised plastics, material-handling products - but also for suppliers of logistics solutions or enterprise software.
Apart from industry, the booming tourism industry shows an appetite for travel software, while the market-research company BMI singles out the Czech Republic as the most attractive medical-devices market in Central and Eastern Europe.
The Czech Republic is a rewarding, reliable and innovative business-to-business market that can help Irish companies diversify sales.
They can meet potential customers from very different parts of the world that made the Czech Republic their base, especially industrial conglomerates from Japan, South Korea and, increasingly, China.
No wonder that a number of Irish companies, including household names such as Kingspan, Smurfit Kappa, Mergon International, ICON, Grafton Recruitment and PM Group, have established operations in this market.
Many firms also use the Czech Republic as a gateway for sales in Central and Eastern Europe, a market of 110-plus million consumers.
Since joining the EU in 2004, Irish exports to Central Europe have grown over 300pc. According to the Czech Statistical Office, in 2015, Irish exports to the Czech Republic exceeded €1bn for the first time.
Getting involved in the Czech Republic requires strong local knowledge. It's absolutely crucial to dedicate time to researching your customers' needs, assessing alternatives and properly formulating your offer.
Ireland is very popular here - in many aspects it is a role model - but this goodwill does not mean you can skip your homework.
Czechs are quite pragmatic, focused on results and technical competence. However, personal relationships and mutual trust are critical. Face-to-face meetings go straight to the point and place facts before sentiment.
It is important to follow up on meetings and deliver on promises. Similar to other central European countries, Czech businesspeople are cautious and don't believe it until they see it.
Although sticky points are discussed at meetings, people like to have things confirmed in writing and accompanied with sufficient evidence to back up claims. If we are to believe the research of British communication guru Richard D Lewis, Czech and Irish business cultures and negotiation styles are very similar.
Business meetings are invariably conducted in English, which is taught in schools.
Czechs are proud of their country and what they achieved since the fall of communism in 1989. According to The Economist Intelligence Unit's 2013 'Where to be Born' index, the Czech Republic has the highest quality of life among new EU member states and ranks 28th globally.
Judging from packed Aer Lingus and Ryanair planes heading from Dublin to Prague, an ever increasing number of Irish people are becoming familiar with Czechs' attitude to the work-life balance - and socialising is an important part of all relationships.
Unsurprisingly, this is not a barrier for Irish business visitors.
Ladislav Muller is Enterprise Ireland director for the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Bulgaria and is based in Prague
Sunday Indo Business