Sunday 17 December 2017

Kerry's food for thought as Shannon off the radar

It was by any standards a bumper week for jobs announcements by indigenous Irish companies. On Tuesday Kerry Group announced that it was building a new global research facility at Naas, Co Kildare.

The new facility will ultimately employ up to 900 people while 400 jobs will be created during the construction phase.

The ink was barely dry on the Kerry announcement when bookie Paddy Power announced on Thursday that it was creating 610 jobs at its new headquarters in the south Dublin suburb of Clonskeagh.

Let me give credit where credit is due. The creation of almost 2,000 new jobs proves that despite the chronically-depressed state of the domestic economy, many indigenous Irish firms are successfully getting on with their business.

World class

Kerry Group and Paddy Power are two of the best of the new world-class breed of Irish companies.

Since its formation just 40 years ago, Kerry has grown to become a global leader in food flavourings and ingredients.

While Paddy Power, which was founded as recently as 1988, has grown to become the most valuable bookmaker in Europe with a stock market capitalisation of almost €2.8bn.

However, the fact that last week's jobs will all be located in the greater Dublin area highlights the need for the Government to continue to look at job creation outside of The Pale.

While Paddy Power has been a Dublin-based company since its formation, Kerry Group's headquarters are located in Tralee, Co Kerry.

This is no coincidence. Not alone is Tralee situated in the heart of the Irish dairy belt, Cork's UCC is the country's main producer of food science graduates.

Many of Kerry's senior executives, including its founding chief executive Denis Brosnan, are UCC food science graduates.

So why did the company feel the need to locate its global research facility in the Dublin satellite town of Naas rather than somewhere closer to its Tralee headquarters?

In fairness to Naas it should be pointed out that it beat off stiff competition from both London and Amsterdam to secure the project and no one should begrudge Naas its hard-won success.

However, no matter what interpretation one puts on last week's announcement it is difficult to resist the suspicion that it represents a possibly decisive shift in Kerry Group's centre of gravity away from the south-west and towards the greater Dublin area.

If this is in fact the case then no doubt the reasons are many and complex.

But Kerry Group executives themselves admitted that much of the reason for picking Naas was to do with access to Dublin airport.

The run-down of Shannon Airport and the loss of a large number of air connections in recent years hasn't helped matters.

In June, the Government established a steering group and two task forces to advise it on the separation of Shannon airport from the Dublin Airport Authority and the restructuring of Shannon Development.

Stellar cast

The stellar cast of names working on the plan include secretary generals Tom O'Mahony and John Murphy from the Transport and Enterprise Departments respectively, current Bord Gais chairperson Rose Hynes, former Dublin City Council manager John Fitzgerald, and former Enterprise Ireland boss Dan Flinter.

While Transport Minister Leo Varadkar has called for swift action on the plan, one wonders if it will be swift enough.

At the very least Kerry Group's decision to locate its research facility in Naas rather than in the south-west will come as blow and should provide the steering group and task forces with plenty food for thought.

Irish Independent

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