It’s misguided to keep pumping foreign investment into Dublin

Facebook's plans, released earlier this month.

Facebook’s decision to expand in the heart of Dublin 4 and create room for an additional 5,000 employees is a powerful endorsement of Ireland’s foreign direct investment (FDI) strategy and planning, writes Joe Gill.

This giant technology company has decided, presumably after extensive analysis, that a large office space in the centre of the most expensive part of the Irish economy, is worthwhile for its global expansion plans.

To understand its rationale I suspect you have to travel across to the west coast of America. There, IT companies are struggling to access office space and people at reasonable costs in support of expansion. Dublin 4 obviously offers a compelling mix when examined through the lens of a US west coast investor.

This begs another question — how many other major US-centric IT companies are weighing up Ireland as a potential landing zone for further material investment? I suspect quite a few. All of these will know about snarling commuter traffic in Dublin, high residential housing rents and a tight labour market but these issues are set against an English speaking pro-business political culture inside the EU’s single market. These are compelling reasons that eclipse the logistical hurdles attached to a Dublin base.

Imagine, though, if you can have all these positive attributes without the tangible problems related to living in Dublin currently. Imagine locations with smoother commutes, cheaper houses, lower commercial property costs but in the exact same tax regime as Dublin and with ample broadband capacity to manage your international business. This is where the so-called “regions” come into play.

It is funny to monitor the language used within Ireland to discuss Dublin and the rest. You may note references to the “regions”, travelling “down” to other parts of Ireland and “secondary” cities.

This reveals a bias that is entirely unjustified. The geography of Ireland is tiny in a global context, distances are minute compared to the areas travelled in America, for example, and our entire population would fit into a modestly sized European or US city.

In assessing Ireland from afar, the distances between our major cities are not significant. Moreover, a cursory glance at quality of life indices will flag large parts of Ireland as among the highest ranked for leisure purposes in ultra low pollution environments.

In that context we should be presenting Ireland to global investors as a single offering with differing price points. Fancy an all new commercial office 30% cheaper than in the Dublin area? Try Cork. Looking for housing 50% under Dublin? Try Limerick. Need access to a steady flow of high quality third level students who would prefer not to emigrate? Take your pick from Galway, Limerick, Cork or Waterford.

The naysayers will tell you these places don’t have the connectivity of Dublin or the mass of available employees. Anyone with that thought should be directed to Amazon’s decision last week to create two new campuses in the US. Did they pick a high profile mainstream city? Not quite. Rather, they are building a new block in Crystal City, Virginia for 25,000 employees and another one in Long Island City for a further 25,000. I never heard of Crystal City before the announcement but it has a population of 22,000. That’s half the size of Waterford.

In Ireland we should be shooting for announcements for 5,000+ employee projects across the country. Our offering is better than most countries around Europe, and especially compared to Britain, which has spancilled itself on a Brexit rope.

Settling in Ireland plants any employer inside a market of over 450 million and for English speaking American corporations you also arrive in a secure and gun free environment that has a deep rooted pro-American bias. What is there not to like?

- Joe Gill is director of corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.

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