Sunday 17 February 2019

Adrian Weckler: 'In a trance at Salesforce jobs'

An artist’s impression of the proposed Salesforce Tower in Dublin. Photo: PA
An artist’s impression of the proposed Salesforce Tower in Dublin. Photo: PA
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

I've never dropped acid. But a colleague of mine has. On Friday, he told me that Salesforce's mega jobs launch - the biggest in Ireland's recent history - wasn't far off what is known as 'a trip'.

As I wandered around the company's Californian-style launch announcement at the National Convention Centre, I certainly wondered whether I'd been drinking.

Giant furry mascots emerged to weave and bob among us. They did so to a bed of trancey dance music that played against the backdrop of a teletubbies-style giant mural, featuring cows and Dublin's skyline.

The assembled journalists looked at each other, then over at Martin Shanahan, the IDA boss staring around him in the second row.

Times have certainly changed since the besuited, corporate job announcements of Dell, Microsoft and Intel.

As the furry mascots bobbed off to the side, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar stepped up to pronounce Ireland as the "tech capital of Europe with Dublin at its heart".

And that was about all he said. Whether it was the trancey mascots or the fact that he was having to spend his 40th birthday at a business software jobs launch in a convention centre, he declined to take any questions from the assembled national media present.

The jobs announcement itself was curious. On paper, it's the single biggest jobs announcement in recent times. However, there is some devil in the detail.

The 1,500 new jobs - to add to the 1,400 that Salesforce currently employs here - are to be rolled out "over five years". In tech, that is a long, long time. It's rare to make reliable projections like that.

To be fair, big tech multinationals usually (though not always) deliver on these job announcements. Over the last decade, most of the big ones have exceeded such job targets.

But that wasn't the only notable thing about the show. Part of the announcement was the unveiling of a 'Salesforce Tower' in Dublin's docklands.

When we first saw this, there was excitement: a new tower for Dublin's skyline. And coming from Salesforce, it was something to get excited about.

In San Francisco, Salesforce Tower is the city's tallest building. In London, Salesforce Tower (formerly Heron Tower) is the city's third-tallest building.

So would we be seeing a new iconic structure for Dublin? Alas, no - the unveiling of the photos revealed a five-storey office building reminiscent of a high-spec Lidl, a multi-storey Skoda dealership or a DIT campus in the midlands.

It's the Barack Obama Plaza of Salesforce Towers.

The assembled staff (almost 1,000 of them) at the Convention Centre didn't care. For many of them, this could mean relocating into the city centre instead of out in the far off fields of Leopardstown.

Outside the Convention Centre, the Chamber of Commerce and the various lobbyist organisations looking to cash in somehow, reaction to the new tech jobs was muted.

As is the case with almost every major high-end jobs announcement in Dublin these days, accommodation and regionalisation were to the fore.

"And… where will they live?" was the most 'liked' response I received to tweeting the Salesforce news on Thursday evening.

"Always Dublin," read others.

This column has lamented before about the lack of ambition in our planning system that means infrastructure such as accommodation and efficient transport are now the preserve of (much) higher paid workers.

Aside from what it says about our own culture ('we don't want to grow! We're fine the way we are!'), it creepingly creates a 'them' and 'us' mindset. 'They' are the 'tech elite' who 'come in here and force property rents up to unaffordable levels'.

'We' are the native residents whose kids, unless they get a job at one of these high-paying companies, can no longer afford the kind of modest family home in Dublin that their parents could when they were younger.

Thus, growing grumbles when new tech expansions are announced. What used to be greeted with universal praise is now met with a much more mixed welcome.

As for 'why always Dublin', Salesforce's decision to come even further into the centre of Dublin - and on the northside, too, where big tech companies previously would not consider - is just the latest indication that Ireland is a one-town country when it comes to really big tech software investments.

It's spreading to other niches in tech, too. As the Irish Independent revealed last week, WeWork is now taking a huge chunk of the old Clerys building, to add to the old Central Bank and five other major office blocks it has moved into in Dublin.

So why Dublin? Three reasons.

First, the obvious: the biggest, most important companies are already in, or near, Dublin.

That means Google and Facebook who between them, are headed for 11,000 staff in Dublin. Microsoft has opened a new campus. Amazon is busy adding an extra 1,000 jobs. Linkedin, HubSpot and (literally) dozens of others are all bedding down here.

So companies thinking of setting up shop in Ireland, whether they come from abroad or are homegrown, understand that there's a much better chance of hiring qualified professionals around Dublin from these companies.

Several bosses in recently-arrived US tech companies have said this over and over: they need to be around Dublin to poach staff from the big players already here.

This also means that if they need to get additional expert staff from abroad, especially from Europe, Dublin is a much easier sell than Cork or Limerick or Galway. It's a fact of life: Dublin is a bigger, more cosmopolitan city, something that appeals to young, single professionals. (There are exceptions such as Apple in Cork.)

Salesforce is the latest big Dublin jobs announcement. But it won't be the last.

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