THERE has been much talk recently that Ireland is undergoing what is described as a 'two-speed' jobs recovery, with the main cities doing well, while other parts of the country languish. This description is used most often in relation to the creation of fresh employment.
Clearly, Ireland is in strong recovery mode, but some observers claim that this recovery is far more advanced in some sectors and regions than others.
Commentators also seek to find evidence and data to support the theory that job creation is not happening in the regions and that state agencies, including the IDA, are simply not doing enough to bring fresh employment to locations outside Dublin, Cork and Galway.
A battery of statistics – site visits, grant payment trends and net/gross jobs patterns – have been used in this newspaper and others recently to imply that Dublin, Cork and Galway are doing very well in terms of employment, while other parts of the country are all but forgotten.
The reality – beyond the headlines – is far more complex and nuanced.
Firstly, while the IDA and other state agencies work hard to create fresh employment opportunities for all regions, ultimately the jobs are created not by the State, but by private companies. They are the ultimate decision makers on where jobs end up being located.
The final decision on where to locate an investment ultimately resides with the client company, despite IDA efforts and financial support that is available in some regional locations. You cannot force a company to go to a particular part of the country unless it makes sense for their business – particularly when the alternative locations include the likes of Amsterdam, Barcelona, Munich or London.
This basic fact tends to get left out of discussions about the regional dispersion of jobs. Another point often missed is that no one organisation can solve the jobs crisis or produce, as if by magic, a full regional spread of job opportunities.
IDA client companies, for all their importance to the economy, are only one sector within the overall jobs market. They alone will not be able to provide balanced regional development. That will take a whole range of agencies, local authorities, chambers of commerce, community groups and other stakeholders working in unison, particularly with the private sector.
It will also involve particular regions developing their own value propositions that can resonate with overseas and domestic companies.
These are the realities that lie behind stark headlines about regional Ireland being left behind.
Such headlines, particularly those simply looking at grant aid figures, also imply that job creation is not actually happening in regional Ireland.
For many years, the IDA has found targets for job creation outside the main cities challenging. However, one must remember that there is a huge base of companies already located in regional Ireland that one year's grant figures don't capture at all.
Prudential, the multinational US insurance company, employs over 1,000 in Letterkenny. Allergan, in Westport, Co Mayo, employs almost 800. Abbott employs over 2,000 in a number of locations around the country (including Clonmel, Longford, Sligo and Donegal). Recently the bio-pharma company Regeneron announced plans for a major expansion in Limerick. There is also the crane manufacturer Liebherr in Killarney employing more than 600 people.
Just last year alone, in Limerick there were investments announced from Cook, Vistakon, ACI, Worldwide Technical Services and EtQ. There is also eBay and National Pen in Dundalk and Overstock in Sligo, amongst others.
The arrival of a new shiny office or factory into a rural town is what most people notice. Less seen in the work that the IDA and others do is working with companies who are already in Ireland.
We call this work transformation – helping companies to upgrade the skills of their staff, their production processes and their technology and research and development, helping them to change their operations, while staying in Ireland.
But again, much of the analysis comes down to what one measures. There is clearly the direct employment in IDA-support foreign direct investment (FDI) companies, which now stands at a record 166,000, but there is also the secondary impacts of this employment, in terms of spending in local economies.
One secondary effect that is giving many communities a huge boost, particularly outside the main cities, is the construction sector. At present there are a dozen construction projects being carried out by IDA client companies, providing 5,000 jobs. The pipeline for future projects looks very healthy.
Clearly more work needs to be done to get a better dispersion of jobs to locations outside Dublin, Cork and Galway. IDA is only one of a group of organisations that can help this process. This week's plans, supported by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation, to set up a new, improved system of Local Enterprise Offices in each local authority will be a big help.
IDA Ireland continues to strongly market Ireland regions to prospective client companies. This includes designing itineraries for prospective clients in which IDA executives showcase everything the regions have to offer.
We will continue to work as hard as possible to bring additional regional investment, but the best results will be achieved by everyone working together to guarantee a fair regional dispersal of jobs.
Ireland already has a diverse range of dynamic companies in the regions and there is no reason why this strong base cannot be built on for the future.
BARRY O'LEARY IS CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF IDA IRELAND