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Tuesday 27 June 2017

Adrian Weckler: 'Refried news' will save Irish jobs from Trump

'Last week, Intel's chief executive Brian Krzanich joined Trump in the White House to announce a $7bn, 3,000-job Arizona factory' (stock picture)
'Last week, Intel's chief executive Brian Krzanich joined Trump in the White House to announce a $7bn, 3,000-job Arizona factory' (stock picture)
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Are US tech companies about to ditch Ireland for fear of being targeted by President Trump?

No. Instead, they're conning the Donald (and the rest of us) with 'fake news' American jobs announcements.

Last week, Intel's chief executive Brian Krzanich joined Trump in the White House to announce a $7bn, 3,000-job Arizona factory.

"Thank you Brian Krzanich, CEO of @Intel," tweeted Trump. "A great investment ($7 BILLION) in American INNOVATION and JOBS! #AmericaFirst."

Sorry Don, but you've been had. Intel made the same announcement for the same facility and jobs in 2012, with President Obama cheering from the sidelines.

As one commentator put it last week, Intel cooked up some "refried news".

The chip giant isn't alone. After Trump's election in November, the huge telecoms group Softbank let him 'announce' that Softbank would invest $50bn in the US. But Softbank had already publicly declared a $100bn tech fund months before that - $50bn was always going to be spent in or around the US.

There are other examples. Ford managed to spin a story that it was repatriating jobs to the US (it wasn't). Similarly, Lockheed Martin let Trump take credit for a price reduction in its new F-35 fighter plane, even though the discount was due to a higher-volume order from the US government.

It is, of course, possible that Trump isn't being tricked at all and is taking full part in the 'new US jobs' smoke and mirrors. But there are alternative reasons to think that Trump may not be the industrial pied piper who will drain Ireland's multinationals away.

For one thing, it's starting to look like the bigger tech multinationals have more sway with him than we thought. The largest ones have been quietly funding Trump's administration before, during and after his election.

Pre-election campaign finance documents show that Microsoft contributed $1.8m to Trump's effort, while Facebook donated $1m and Google gave $500,000.

Even after he was elected, the tech money kept rolling in. Microsoft gave $500,000 (cash and services) to Trump's 'Presidential Inaugural Committee' at the end of December. Google and Amazon also made cash donations to Trump's regime after his election, according to Politico.com and other US media outlets. They may even still be making such donations now - we won't know until April, when the next batch of campaign finance documents are published.

Is this hypocritical on behalf of companies like Google, whose co-founder Sergey Brin publicly led hundreds of workers in protest against Trump's travel ban policy?

Maybe. But it also shows that behind the scenes, tech firms may still feel they can exert some measure of control on Trump, even if it's just to temper the worst of the president's populist instincts.

After all, buying influence in the US is a mainstream, accepted practice that is traded shamelessly. So even as they're signing public court documents to challenge presidential initiatives, tech companies are also slipping a few dollars the Don's way to keep his phone line open.

If keeping US multinational jobs here is important to us, we should be thankful that big tech firms are being so Machiavellian.

But they're not doing it for our sakes. And while plutocrats such as Brin, Zuckerberg and Gates are undoubtedly genuine in their personal dismay at the anti-Muslim and 'America First' rhetoric coming out of the White House, it is their own self-interest that will block government initiatives to yank operations back from Ireland to the US.

If there is one thing that big US firms cannot afford to do, it's a labour pullback to the States.

Cynics might say that Apple and Google have over 12,000 people between them in Cork and Dublin because of tax breaks. But such giant companies have to keep offices, plants and personnel outside the US if they're to survive on a global basis.

There is no way that Google and Facebook could run their European operations from San Francisco. There is too much localisation - both for the services and business development - needed closer to the company's customers.

And in case you missed it, a huge whack of their quarterly income - billions and billions of dollars - now comes from the European market. There is no chance that they, or the mobs of Goldman Sachs type bankers invested in them, are turning their back on that kind of lucre.

Then there's the fear of being usurped. Once territory is ceded, it's hard to win back. Thanks to companies such as Spotify and Soundcloud, the world's investors can clearly see that it's possible to foster and grow competitor companies in Europe. Ireland's annual venture capital flow alone is now running at close to €1bn. If San Francisco was somehow forced to sit out foreign bases for four years, it could hand a massive advantage to European companies.

Nevertheless, could 'legacy' jobs in manufacturing be the real target? Last week, most of the spotlight was on HP (or 'HP Inc' as it registers itself in the US). The company's 500-job plant in Leixlip, which makes printer equipment, is to close. And we wondered: did this have any connection at all, even a small one, to Trump's current US jobs repatriation policy?

No, it didn't. HP formulated its job-cutting plans in October, when a Trump presidency looked like a long shot. Printers and PCs are on the decline - it's as simple as that.

This is probably also the prism that other manufacturing operations here, such as Intel or Apple (which still makes computers in Cork) should be viewed.

US multinationals are here to boost their own global dominance. Withdrawing would weaken it. And big money won't let it happen. If Trump thinks otherwise, a few fresh 'refried news' announcements should calm him down.

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