Sunday 23 October 2016

Locating FDI beyond the capital can multiply the benefits for everyone

Companies looking for overseas locations should tap the skills and initiative that exists beyond capital cities. That's what Regeneron's Niall O'Leary did - and he explains how well it is now working out

Niall O’Leary

Published 25/10/2015 | 02:30

Companies looking for overseas locations should tap the skills and initiative that exists beyond capital cities
Companies looking for overseas locations should tap the skills and initiative that exists beyond capital cities

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals - a leading science-based US biopharmaceutical company - made the decision to locate our first overseas Industrial Operations and Product Supply (IOPS) operation in Limerick in 2013 with a $300m investment and 300 jobs, planned for delivery by the end of 2016.

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Last week, we announced a further investment of $350m to add another 200 jobs by the end of 2017. By the time it's complete, our site in Raheen will be the largest capacity bulk biopharmaceutical production facility in Ireland providing important new medicines to people with serious diseases across the world.

This was a major undertaking, yet the decision to make the additional investment was an easy one. Ireland's attractiveness to our sector is well known. The country has a highly-educated workforce and a strong biopharma industry - and the Government is committed to supporting the growth and development of the sector.

Our own story of locating in a regional centre over the last two years has featured all the best that Ireland has to offer.

Although I have spent over two decades building my biopharmaceutical career in the United States, I grew up in Killarney - so I can see first- hand the positive impact Regeneron is having in the wider region. However, I think all too often the benefits of locating in a regional centre can be overlooked by multinationals looking to locate beyond their own territories for the first time.

It is a credit to the vision of our management and IDA Ireland that we are a living case study of how well it can work. I think it's fair to say that the benefits to a regional community of a major international investment are fairly well documented - but perhaps what often isn't discussed are the benefits that the investor reaps as well.

We carefully evaluated a number of locations for our first major international expansion before selecting Limerick, but if our experience to date is any indication, we chose extremely wisely.

The progress on the ground has been truly remarkable and in less than two years we have brought the dormant former Dell building back to life - and are well on our way to building a state-of-the-art facility in industry-leading time.

To what can we attribute this incredible progress? There are a number of reasons, but one that stands out is Limerick's very strong community spirit. This is a key factor that can be tapped into when locating in a regional centre. People are able to see and experience a tangible impact of an investment themselves - and this means that every person involved is bought in and committed to delivering on our shared goals.

Since our announcement in 2013, the entire community in Limerick has gone out of its way to welcome us and help us create the momentum we needed to develop this site.

A further critical component of our success is our relationship with the third-level institutions in the region. The education level in the area is top-quality; it is clear this has supported Limerick and the Mid-West's efforts to showcase the region as an attractive business location. The real value to us is the ability to develop direct links with these local educational institutions.

We've met both the University of Limerick and Limerick Institute of Technology, and other regional colleges such as University College Cork, University College Galway and the Institutes of Technology in Tralee, Cork and Galway-Mayo to explain our recruitment needs. We have been so impressed - not only by the calibre of graduates but also by the willingness of these institutions to design or tailor courses to meet our specific needs. We are now working collaboratively in areas of mutual interest such as job placements, internships and college exchange programmes.

The numbers bear out the success of this bespoke approach, with 40pc of our full-time employees hailing from Limerick or having studied in the city. A constant theme of visiting US executives is to compliment the level of talent and skill on show.

One of the reasons that capital cities are often chosen for FDI is for their transport links, but we have found the Shannon region's connectivity to be excellent and - perhaps more importantly - proactive in its development.

The increased transatlantic links at Shannon Airport, for example, formed a key part of our rationale for investment. We're up to about a dozen inbound flights and hotel stays a week, numbers that surely will increase as the project progresses, and the bustling nature of the site is in no small part because of the convenient access offered.

Last, but certainly not least, we have found ourselves a really good cultural fit, something we take very seriously. We believe we have located in a region which best complements the ethos that is ingrained in our organisation. Established in New York state, we grew the company based on the 'can do' attitude of our employees - something we have absolutely found reflected in Limerick.

The benefits work both ways of course, and we also enjoy having a positive impact in the local area. We strive to be a good neighbour and look to play an active and positive role. We are engaging with numerous community and business organisations, such as the Limerick Chamber of Commerce and Shannon Group, to make that happen. In particular, we believe that the relationship with Regeneron could be hugely beneficial to local educational institutions. Offering roles which keep graduates in the region should be a significant boost to the area.

It goes without saying that we like to support local suppliers. We feel pride when they tell us that our investment has brought new life to the city - new businesses are opening and restaurants and bars are full, as the money they themselves are spending flows back into the community.

Landing a significant international investment can also bring confidence to the city as a whole, helping it compete for further FDI. I'm told that Limerick is looking to increasingly position the city and region as a global hub for pharmaceutical process innovation and advanced manufacturing - which can only be a benefit to all in the industry and community. We have already seen examples of this, with companies such as MECO opening European headquarters in the National Technology Park in Limerick, and ABEC Inc expanding its global operations at the former FCI facility site in Fermoy, Co Cork. Both will be key suppliers to Regeneron.

We are proud that Limerick will be home to our first production site outside the United States. We are creating something truly special here and we urge other businesses to broaden their horizons when considering their international expansions.

Niall O'Leary is site head of Regeneron in Limerick

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