Irish-Polish collaboration a springboard to other markets
Last week, the Taoiseach was in Warsaw for political talks and to promote trade between Poland and Ireland, urging entrepreneurs and researchers to deepen their business and academic relationships.
Increasing links between the two countries makes a lot of commercial sense, because it follows one of the keystone principles of Ireland's success as a trading nation - leveraging affinities. It is no coincidence that Ireland's two biggest trading partners are the UK and the US. The Irish diaspora has established itself in the workplace, in public administration, in commerce, in culture and - most importantly of all - in interpersonal relationships.
Before Poland joined the EU in 2004, contacts between the two countries were limited. But with the opening up of the borders and the advent of low-cost air travel, the level of contact jumped exponentially. Initially, the links were developed by Poles travelling to Ireland to work. Their experience has been almost a mirror image of the Irish diaspora. They have developed a reputation as hard-working people who are easy to get along with. Consequently, social integration has been hugely successful and there are 150,000 Poles living in Ireland.
The Taoiseach shared some Irish success stories at the Irish-Polish Innovation Forum hosted by Enterprise Ireland at the Google Campus in Warsaw. He outlined how the Government has invested in innovation to develop sales abroad and jobs at home. Kenny also referred to the Government's ambition for the Irish research and business community to secure €1.25bn in funding from the EU's €80bn R&D fund, Horizon 2020 and urged co-operation between Polish and Irish entrepreneurs and academics.
Irish SMEs such as 3D4Medical, MagGrow, and Cylon were among the companies present that illustrate the value of R&D in growing an internationally focused business.
Irish business has developed strong economic links with Poland over the past decade. Poland is Ireland's 12th-largest overseas market, worth about €2bn in exports last year - and growing at a double-digit rate. Trade between the two countries is worth €3.4bn overall.
Irish businesses also use Poland as a platform for developing opportunities in Central Europe - a market of nearly 300 million people. Over 50 Irish companies - such as Portwest, Mercury Engineering, PM Group, ID Tech, JFC, EI Electronics, IPL Group, PPI Adhesive Products - now have operations in Poland in sectors such as ICT, print and packaging, construction and client service.
Poland also offers skillsets in short supply in Ireland, particularly those based on Stem subjects. Beata Janota, the Warsaw manager of an Irish recruitment firm Sigmar, told me that while the Irish excel in sales and relationship management, Poland offers a wealth of technically-proficient labour thanks to long traditions of excellent mathematical education.
Many Irish companies are making use of this advantage - 3D4Medical employs almost 20 3-D graphic designers on anatomy visualisation; while S3 Connected Health has located its global centre of excellence in Wroclaw.
Ireland has become home to many Polish entrepreneurs who have set up businesses or used Ireland as a springboard into the UK and US, including Mike Sikorski, the Poznan-born founder of the ingenious digital marketing tool Huggity, who was supported by Enterprise Ireland and now has clients on five continents.
With the high level of practical and political support outlined by the Taoiseach here last week, Irish businesses seeking partnerships in Poland can be assured of a céad míle witamy.
Bartosz Siepracki is the manager of Enterprise Ireland office in Warsaw, Poland
Sunday Indo Business