Business Irish

Wednesday 7 December 2016

'We urgently need city centre apartments for young workers' says Workday boss

Published 20/12/2015 | 02:30

Workday's Irish managing director Annrai O'Toole Photo: Frank McGrath
Workday's Irish managing director Annrai O'Toole Photo: Frank McGrath

Ireland urgently needs high-density city-centre accommodation if it wants to attract workers from overseas, according to Ireland's 'tech godfather', Annrai O'Toole.

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O'Toole is Irish managing director of Workday, the software company that came to Ireland with the purchase of O'Toole's technology business, Cape Clear, in 2008. He previously co-founded Iona Technologies, one of the first Irish technology companies to attract global attention.

His staff at Workday are mostly software developers, one of the most-sought after professional skills in the world. Many had to be recruited from overseas.

"Today's young workers want to live in high-quality accommodation in the city," O'Toole told the Sunday Independent. "People from Europe are used to living in more densely populated areas where they are not forced to commute. That's what we urgently need to attract these people."

Last year Workday moved offices to Smithfield in Dublin city centre. O'Toole explained: "When we decided where to move, we literally plotted out our employees' addresses and then figured out a location that reduced everyone's commute times by as much as possible."

O'Toole was speaking at an event hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Dublin last week, attended by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, aimed at encouraging foreign workers to move to Ireland. Companies from PayPal to Intel have identified crucial skills gaps that cannot be filled by the Irish population.

The lack of rental residential development in central Dublin and other booming cities including Cork and Galway is not helping. It may ultimately compromise the country's ability to attract foreign direct investment, according to Hibernia REIT chief executive Kevin Nowlan, of the Ireland's biggest property investors.

The problem was thrown into sharp relief earlier this year when a technology firm leased the first 27 apartments to be put on the market at Wyckham Point in Dundrum, a Hibernia REIT development.

While there is plenty of new office construction now in the pipeline, there is still a worrying lack of finance for new residential property in areas near offices such as Dublin's central business district, Nowlan said at the time.

"The shortage of office space is well documented but in many ways it is as important that residential rental development be accelerated as well," he said.

The so-called 'Silicon Docklands' district of Dublin at Grand Canal Dock is a living, breathing example of the consequences of failing to provide enough housing near modern workplaces with lots of young employees.

Many of the workers in the area are from overseas and will not settle in Dublin, but are here for a couple of years. The cost of renting a one-bed apartment in the "Silicon Docks" area is now upwards of €2,000, exceeding central London prices.

"Many multinationals are bringing staff in from all over the world and those employees want to rent apartments that are at most 2km from their office," Nowlan explained.

"If they have to live miles away from work that is a negative and may make recruitment harder and hurt Ireland's place as a destination for foreign direct investment. We need to have as many ticks against our name when a multinational compares Ireland to other locations.

"There are certain constraints on planning and construction that should be looked at.

"For example, restrictions such as dual aspect requirements make residential investment economically unattractive, and also in the city centre only about one in three apartment users rent a car space - yet planners require there be one space per unit."

Sunday Indo Business

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