IDA Ireland has exceeded its five-year job growth targets in just four years.
Optimism is the order of the day at the Industrial Development Authority who has enjoyed an ‘incredible’ last few years, according to Ray O’Connor, the south-west regional director at IDA Ireland.
The IDA is experiencing the highest level of employment in client companies ever. In its annual report for 2018, the body detailed record growth with some 229,057 people employed in client companies.
Of these, a huge 22,785 roles were created in foreign-direct investment (FDI) companies last year, with employment growth standing at 7% in FDI companies. The national average in other companies is just 3%, in comparison.
Growth is evident in every sector and in every part of the country and this growth looks set to continue in this vein despite the threat of potentially damaging international geopolitical factors and internal infrastructural shortfalls.
Mr O’Connor said that the south-west region — Cork and Kerry — has enjoyed year-on-year growth every year since 2009. That equates to an additional 17,129 jobs in the last decade.
“It has been incredible since the low point of 2008-2010,” he said.
Nationally, jobs in FDI companies grew by 7% last year. In the west of Ireland, the numbers increased by 8% and the Midlands, it increased by 14%. Dublin and the mid-east increased by 7%, while the mid-west jumped by 6%.
The south-west region was at 5%, with the vast majority of these based in Cork.
Mr O’Connor said that almost every sector of the economy is showing strong growth. 186 overseas companies are based in the south-west, employing 41,108 people in total.
The bio-pharmaceutical industry, a long-term stronghold in Cork, is continuing to grow, with more than 9,000 people employed in 24 companies. This was a 9% increase in just 12 months, with significant announcements at the likes Janssen and Eli Lilly among the standout moves.
The tech sector, which includes international giants like Dell EMC, Apple and McAfee, grew by 6% to 16,758 jobs.
Engineering and industry jobs are growing slowly and, while there was a slight decrease in consumer business jobs, there was extremely strong growth in the international finance sector, where 16 companies now employ 1,500 people, a 12% increase in just 12 months.
This was partly boosted by major announcements by the likes of Clearstream, with the sector representing an area of significant potential growth in the coming years.
There is also substantial interest in the cyber-security sector which has been buoyed by several jobs announcements in the last 12 months and the backing of the creation of a new national cluster, based at CIT and supported by the IDA Ireland.
The area represents one of major potential for Cork and, indeed, all of Ireland, according to industry sources. Many believe that with the right pieces in place, Ireland could carve out a role as a global leader in cybersecurity in the coming years.
Mr O’Connor said that the growth is strong throughout the country and is likely to continue.
Last year, major announcements came from BioMarin, who confirmed plans to add 51 jobs at its Shanbally base; DataStax, who created 30 new jobs; and Pilz, who opened a €7.4m software development centre on Model Farm Road to house 70 new jobs.
Eventbrite (50 jobs), Forcepoint (100 jobs) and World Nomads Group (20 jobs, growing to 80) also made significant announcements for Cork within the last 12 months.
“They are attracted here for a huge variety of reasons,” Mr O’Connor said. “It is the second city, which gives it a relative scale. It is not as big as Dublin but it is much bigger than other areas. There is huge interest in the quality of life here, too.”
“The existing clusters drive interest,” he continued. “Those clusters — like medical technology or bio-pharmaceuticals — draw in other companies.
“For example, there are 67 technology companies operating in here and that is attractive for other tech companies because they know that the infrastructure is here to support tech companies but, also, that the talent is here that they can draw from.
“Cork is a university city. Between UCC and CIT, there are 30,000 full and part-time students.”
And, looking at that performance in the last 12 months and, indeed, in the last 10 years, it is no surprise that Mr O’Connor and IDA Ireland are confident about the coming years.
IDA Ireland is four years into a five year strategy to attract jobs to Ireland and we see this success continuing into 2019,” he said.
FDI’s performance has exceeded targets set by Government contained in IDA Ireland’s report ‘Strategy — Winning: Foreign Direct Investment 2015-2019’.
For context, IDA clients added two and a half times more jobs under “Winning” FDI strategy than in the first four years of IDA’s previous strategy 2010 — 2014.
58% of employment is now outside of Dublin in 2018, which is the highest number of people employed by IDA clients outside of Dublin in the history of the organisation, with more jobs added in the regions than at any time over the past 17 years.
The challenge in international uncertainty can’t be discounted but it presents opportunities too, Mr O’Connor explained.
“There are great clusters in Cork, there is a very competitive corporation tax. There is a well-educated English speaking workforce and a good track record of supporting businesses and helping it to succeed,” he said.
“What this does is it gives confidence to businesses who are looking to establish.
"People shy away from uncertainty and given the certainty as well as the confidence in Ireland and the fact that we are and will remain part of the European Union means that more people are likely to look here to establish.”
Among the key challenges for IDA Ireland each year is ensuring a geographical spread of new jobs — and the American Chamber can be a key part of achieving that.
Ray O’Connor, the south-west regional director at IDA Ireland, said that the development agency is keen to ensure that job creation is felt throughout all regions and not just concentrated on cities.
Nationally, growth hit 7% last year, with almost 230,000 people employed in FDI companies by the end of 2018. It was the result of continued year-on-year growth since 2009.
All regions saw the boost, with the west of Ireland increasing by 8% and the Midlands by 14%. The border region grew by 3%, with Dublin and the mid-east by 7%, the mid-west by 6% and the south-east by 7%.
The south-west region of Cork and Kerry grew by 5%, with the vast majority of these based in Cork.
While the trends are all moving in the right direction, Mr O’Connor warned against complacency and said that there factors — both internal and external — that have been communicated by organisations based here that could well potentially impact on job creation.
Brexit is an obvious issue in the international market, though that also presents potential opportunities for Ireland as some companies seek to retain a base in the EU, while there is also a range of potential infrastructural issues for companies based in and around the south-west region.
This includes roads projects that have yet to progress and also a significant shortage of new housing construction.
Some of these were highlighted by Martin Shanahan, CEO of IDA Ireland, when announcing the annual report for 2018.
He said: “Maintaining the competitiveness of the Irish economy remains absolutely essential.
"Issues that our clients are raising and that the National Competitiveness Council has also identified include: residential housing — availability and cost; skills; infrastructure investment; investment in the education sector and income tax levels at the higher marginal rate.
However, despite these issues, Mr O’Connor said that IDA Ireland is optimistic about the coming years.
He said that the connection with American business remains strong and is a reason to look forward positively as IDA Ireland will continue to work closely with the American Chamber to identify policy issues and potential solutions.
Of the 186 FDI companies in the south-west, 114 are US multi-nationals, employing 32,203 people as of the end of 2018. And, according to the IDA Ireland Annual Report for 2018, territorial investment is growing from all sectors, with North American investment increasing by 7% last year.
A large number of US employers have been making positive noises about their Irish operations in the last 12 months, too, meaning that this number could continue to increase in the coming years.
Mr O’Connor added, “IDA Ireland is client-focused — we have a good track record of understanding the needs of companies coming here and we convey those needs to policy-makers when required. The American Chamber plays a good role in that.”