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IDA has clear vision for the road ahead

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There were 237 investments into Ireland in 2017 — 99 were in regional locations outside of Dublin.

Martin Shanahan emphasises the importance of continuing this trend.

In 2015, in our new five-year strategy Winning: Foreign Direct Investment 2015-19, IDA Ireland set challenging targets for the creation of 209,000 jobs across the country, and an increase in investment of 30% to 40% in each region outside of Dublin.

The entrance area to the IDA site at Dublin Road, Fermoy. Pic: Denis Minihane

Those were hugely ambitious targets at the time and represented a significant increase over the previous five years. 

We announced last month that employment levels in foreign-owned companies have reached 210,443,

surpassing the overall five-year target two years ahead of schedule — and we recorded growth in investments in all regional locations last year.

That is obviously an encouraging start. That said, the business environment for foreign direct investment (FDI) is more competitive than ever, with many other countries vying for the same investments as Ireland.

It was extremely clear in Davos recently at the World Economic Forum where you had many countries, large and small, pitching for investments.

International developments may also impact FDI flows globally, with a greater move towards protectionism and nationalistic policies in some quarters.

There were 237 investments into Ireland in 2017 — 111 of those investors were investing in Ireland for the very first time. Crucially, 99 of those investments were in regional locations outside of Dublin. 

FDI employment in all regions increased in 2017; in the south-west, employment increased by 4.2%, and by a remarkable 9.2%, to 14,918, in the south-east.

However, there is a lot more to be done and we will continue to work relentlessly in 2018 to secure investments and jobs for areas outside of Dublin. 

Coming from a rural background myself as a Kerry native, I am acutely aware of the importance of jobs for regional sustainability and development.

It remains a challenge to convince international investors to consider locations outside of Dublin and the larger urban areas. 

Typically, investors are more attracted to large urban centres where competitors are thriving and providing a magnet for highly skilled workers and which have the necessary infrastructure and services.

Convincing investors that regional locations can support their operations given population densities and skills availability is a challenge. 

However, there are some fantastic examples of companies that are thriving in regional locations and we continually showcase those examples across the country.

Making an area as inviting as possible to live and work is key. 

A key element of the offering is a dynamic portfolio of land and property solutions to assist with winning investment.

Land and property is sold and acquired each year to ensure that appropriate options are available for clients. Some 65% of IDA’s land bank is currently available for further investment.

The availability of sites and property solutions for clients is a key element of IDA’s suite of marketing tools that is required to win projects in the competitive world of mobile investment. 

It also enables companies to expedite their investments and get started quickly. Having available land is essential to achieve regional investment.

Private developers have not been investing in property solutions outside Dublin, having largely withdrawn from that market in 2008. 

As a result, IDA Ireland, with financial support from Government, has stepped in as an investor of last resort to ensure property solutions in regional locations are in place to attract investments.

IDA’s Regional Property Investment Programme was designed to create high-spec, advance-build, turnkey property options that businesses could move into at short notice.

To date, IDA has secured tenants for the first buildings completed under the programme in Waterford, Athlone, and Sligo. 

Construction of two new advance technology buildings in Castlebar and Tralee is now complete and the properties are being extensively marketed.

Construction is also under way in Galway and new buildings are planned for Carlow, Dundalk, Limerick, Athlone, and Waterford over the next two years. 

The property programme also allowed for upgrade works to a number of our existing IDA business parks.

We have secured some great investments for regions in 2017, including pharma packagers Wasdell and employment services firm Graebel, which announced 300 and 125 jobs, respectively, for Dundalk, as well as Mercury Filmworks in Kilkenny, which partnered with Cartoon Saloon to create an animation studio, and more than 140 jobs in the process, while Mobile Technologies announced it is to hire 150 people in its newly established European HQ in Drogheda, among others.

As well as working to attract new FDI, an important focus for us is working with established client companies, helping them to develop and expand their business to grow jobs — this is reflected in expansion and jobs announcements last year from companies in regional locations such as Northern Trust in Limerick, Beckman Coulter in County Clare, National Pen in Dundalk, Janssen Sciences in Cork, MSD in Carlow and Cork, Element Six in Shannon, and Borg Warner in Tralee.

While the US remains our key market, we are also working assiduously on diversifying our portfolio, expanding and deepening our relationships in Europe as well as in countries such as China, India, South Korea, Singapore, and Australia, and we will explore new market opportunities in the UAE, Turkey, and South Africa as a means of generating new business.

In recognition of Brexit we are reorganising our global footprint from three to four territories: The US, Europe, AsiaPac, and UK — the UK is being treated as a separate territory.

In future, our European business will be managed out of Dublin and Frankfurt instead of London, and we are opening a new Canada office in Toronto this year.

Continuing to invest in infrastructure and education, while maintaining the competitiveness of the economy,

remains essential in attracting FDI generally, and into regional locations.

Overall the resilience of the Irish offering remains strong, with investors continuing to value talent, track record, and our stable regulatory environment. The outlook for the first half of 2018 currently looks strong, despite global uncertainty.

Martin Shanahan is chief executive of IDA Ireland.

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