Saturday 25 May 2019

Regions step up fight to lure tech jobs from Dublin

With house prices and shortages spiralling, multinationals are looking beyond the capital again, writes Ailish O'Hora

Anne-Marie Tierney Le-Roux, IDA Ireland head of regions. Photo: Dylan Vaughan
Anne-Marie Tierney Le-Roux, IDA Ireland head of regions. Photo: Dylan Vaughan

When Skout Secure Intelligence, an international cyber-security firm, chose Portlaoise as its European headquarters last week it highlighted an existing pool of talent as one of the reasons for picking Ireland as a base.

But Laois is among a growing number of Irish regions attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from outside of the capital. Several companies, backed by IDA Ireland, are tapping into the regional Institutes of Technology and universities to select staff and talent who are becoming increasingly magnets for multinationals to move outside the capital.

And with Dublin almost bursting at the seams against the backdrop of a difficult housing market and almost full employment, multinational jobs are seeping back into the regions again.

The regions, hit more drastically by the most recent cruel recession it seems, are fighting back.

Earlier this month, Belfast-based Neueda Techologies, announced that it was creating 200 jobs in Athlone, Co Westmeath.

The company's founder David Bole said he was particularly impressed with the level of technical and engineering talent available to the company in the midlands.

In June, US blockchain startup Blockdaemon chose Galway over Dublin. Galway Chamber of Commerce is pushing for the region to be recognised as a post-Brexit location for fintech firms and it is paying off.

Comcast-backed Blockdaemon follows Priviti, a maker of data-sharing solutions for financial services, as well as payments software start-up PiP iT, among others.

But the regional fightback and the more recent job announcements are no surprise to IDA Ireland, the agency devised to attract multinationals to Ireland.

According to Anne-marie Tierney-Le Roux, head of Regional Development at IDA Ireland, the agency is three years into a five-year regional strategy and what we are seeing are the fruits of that plan.

"The target is to increase investments in regional locations by between 30pc-40pc over the five year period that started in 2015," she said.

"It is delivering and is positive but it remains challenging given the competitive nature of FDI," she added.

Getting the companies to Ireland in the first place will always be the biggest challenge, especially since the Brexit vote, but the attractive talent pool and our low 12.5pc corporation tax rate are two of our biggest advantages, it appears.

"What we have seen since 2015 is that 52pc of our client companies are locating outside of Dublin - and, in 2017, all of our regions have shown net growth in employment terms," she said.

IDA-backed companies employed 210,433 people at the end of 2017.

She added that obviously it is important that the capital would remain an extremely strong location for FDI, but the regions are playing an increasingly important role is providing homes for these multinationals and their staff.

"FDIs prefer scale and we are positioning regions to global corporates for new investment opportunities in Ireland across industry sector from tech to life sciences to global services.

"When an IDA-supported company enters into a region it creates a future dynamic enterprise base that links with the institutes and universities," she added.

"An example of this would be Skout selecting Portlaoise as its European cyber-security base last week."

In April, global software firm LiveTiles, announced the creation of 50 jobs in Sligo.

General manager Elaine Murphy said the company took a flexible approach to location when it met the IDA. "They looked at the propositions and Sligo stood out - there's a huge potential of talent from Sligo IT, she said.

"From what I can see there's been a massive shift in the past 12 months with companies increasingly looking at the regions, particularly in tech and startups that generally have a more flexible mentality.

"There has definitely been a change in mind-set, especially if the talent is there."

She added that there are other advantages to the regions like work-life balance.

"Dublin so expensive - staff are becoming more flexible - we're attracting talent from Dublin and London from people who want to own their own homes," she said.

As for some of the infrastructural challenges associated with the regions like broadband, this is something that Sligo has largely been able to overcome.

"Sligo is one of the first locations in Ireland to announce free wifi for towns. We were one of the first test locations for the National Broadband Strategy. It stands in our favour but these are some of the challenges for other regions where the strategy has not been implemented yet," she added.

According to Michelle Murphy, director at Collins McNicholas Recruitment & HR Services Group, while broadband services can be an issue in pockets, services in the regions have definitely improved in the past three or four years and are not proving to be a stumbling block for companies looking outside Dublin.

"We have seen, week after week, the announcements into the regions including Becton Dickinson adding a further 85 to its Limerick operation in a new global research centre," said Murphy.

"The reasons identified for choosing the location were due to the availability of highly skilled talent, their strong relationship with the local universities and the region's 'stellar' reputation as a growing life sciences hub which speaks volumes for the midwest," she said.

She added that other initiatives include the development of co-working spaces such as the PorterShed in Galway and the Building Block in Sligo which have revolutionised the idea of sharing ideas with other businesses, learning from other teams and overall collaborating to help the company to prosper. This is not just a reality in Dublin any more and these spaces are now open across the country.

"The cost of living is certainly less expensive once you leave Dublin, so that is a huge attraction for many people considering a move.

"While there are differences regarding salary level in some areas, eg IT, many other roles are seeing a closing in on that gap generally including finance, customer service and HR opportunities, so this will result in more cash in their pockets at the end of the month," she added.

When Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan Markle made their whistle-stop tour of Dublin at the weekend, they called at DogPatch Labs, a tech startup hub in the IFSC, in the heart of the capital.

But next time round, especially if the trend continues, there may be an opportunity to visit a technology company located outside of Dublin.

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