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The right moves...Look to the support network

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Martin Shanahan, IDA chief executive

Martin Shanahan, IDA chief executive

Martin Shanahan, IDA chief executive

It's no suroprise that firms like Google and Facebook dominate our business and property headlines and we've heard how IDA Ireland are worried that we may miss out on large incoming projects, due to our lack of office buildings.

But what about the other side of the coin- Irish businesses, both small and large, expanding and creating jobs? There are great success stories, huge opportunities for expansion, and a raft of property and business related supports.

Until April of this year, local support to indigenous business was provided by the city and county enterprise boards. I spoke at events for entrepreneurs organised by these boards and I was struck by the enthusiasm of local businesspeople and surprised at the variety of supports available. If I have a criticism, it is that in many areas there are too many bodies involved in providing supports, which confuses everyone and is inefficient. Following the consolidation of the local authorities, each authority now has a Local Enterprise Office (LEO) and these are probably your first port of call.

I spoke with Sheelagh Daly, head of enterprise at the local enterprise office for my own county, Wicklow. She told me that one of their roles is to raise awareness of the range of supports available to local businesses. LEO's provide a range of grants from "Feasibility Grants" to "Business Expansion Grants" and can facilitate unsecured loans. Equally important, are practical supports like a mentoring service where experienced business people are assigned to mentor individual businesses.

Wicklow's LEO has a database of available properties in the area and assists with planning applications, development levies, rates and environmental issues such as waste permits. They don't offer properties directly but they liaise with the Wicklow Enterprise Park and the Arklow Business Enterprise Centre, where units are available. These centres provide facilities such as reception services and the support of a Manager who connects the company with other local businesses.

Despite the economic collapse, the recovery and growth of Irish companies, particularly in the export sector, has been extraordinary and serves as a counter-balance to the heavy reliance on incoming multinationals. The value of exports by indigenous Irish companies to North America exceeded €2bn for the first time last year and grew 17pc the year before. It's interesting to consider that Irish companies employ over 70,000 people in North America, similar to the numbers employed by US companies here.

I met with Jonathan McMillan, Manager-New York at Enterprise Ireland's (EI) HQ in New York. He told me that there is "outrageous opportunity for Irish companies in the US,

"The east coast is just a six hour flight and there are huge opportunities in financial services, medical and life sciences, pharmaceuticals, adtech, manufacturing and retail in an English speaking population of 300 million."

Mr McMillan told me that in most area of business in the US, the quality of what Irish company's offers is "way ahead" of the competition. He gives the example of dairy technology where he says that Irish companies are "years ahead of what they do here."

"Food is Ireland's most successful sector with globally recognised brands like Kerry, Glanbia, and IDB."

New York is seeing a construction boom and Mr McMillan points out that the largest New York construction companies have strong Irish DNA. "Companies like Structure Tone, Navillus, Clune Construction and McGowan Construction are run by first generation Irish."

Key to success in overseas markets, he said, is that senior management must be willing to relocate. Other key factors are sufficient funding and market research at the outset, management's ambition and ability to deliver, investing in people on the ground and developing a US focused sales and marketing plan to deliver growth.

Enterprise Ireland provides various supports to Irish companies with an exportable product and the capacity to grow to over 10 employees. EI has nine regional offices in Ireland and over 30 offices overseas and the eager to help New York office offers incubator units to client companies.

There are great opportunities in this economic recovery but there can be little awareness of the property and business supports available. I recommend contacting your Local Enterprise Office or Enterprise Ireland.

Indo Business