Interview: Áilín Quinlan
Mark Redmond is optimistic. There is a new climate of positivity about the Irish
economy — even the Central Bank has revised upwards its forecast for economic growth this year, explaining that surging job creation is bringing Ireland back within sight of full employment.
This is strongly mirrored in the US — and all of it despite the current geo-political turmoil around the globe.
“There’s great confidence going both ways, and it’s at an all-time high — we have a very clear message from the far side of the Atlantic that economic growth is happening in the USA,” he said.
“What we are proud of is that many Irish companies operating in the US are playing a very important part of that economic growth.”
Irish companies, as Redmond, the Chief Executive of the American Chamber of Commerce points out, employ more than 100,000 people across all 50 states in the US, generating some $100bn in sales annually across the US.
“For a country of our size that’s a pretty amazing number.”
“That’s a phenomenal contribution for Irish companies to make to the US economy.
“Also we have US companies established by Irish people, such as Alltech in Kentucky, one of the top three animal nutrition firms in the world.
“Then you have Stripe founded by the Collison brothers from Limerick, which is becoming one of the world’s leading Fintech companies — this is what Ireland is bringing to the US,” he enthuses.
On the other hand, the US has delivered significant benefits to Ireland, with around $387bn of American investment in Ireland — a figure which exceeds the sum total of the combined US investment in South America, Africa and the Middle East. There are currently nearly 160,000 people working directly for US multinationals in Ireland — but look deeper and that figure is actually much higher.
As Redmond also points out: “For every 10 jobs a US company creates in Ireland, at least seven more are created in Irish businesses, so we have at least another 100,000 employed in Irish companies in the supply sector to US firms, simply as a result of US firms investing in Ireland.
“This has been a very positive story for Irish businesses,” Redmond says — just look at the fact that an estimated 25% of the world’s diabetes patients depend on injectible devices created in Ireland, by many of those 160,000 employees of US multinationals located here.
Another beneficial spinoff from the decision by so many US firms to locate here is that it means Ireland is serving global markets with international teams whose members are making careers — and lives — in Ireland.
“You could have up to 80 nationalities in one of our member companies,” says Mark Redmond, who observes that in turn, the trend has brought great diversity to Ireland, contributing to this nation’s metamorphosis into an inclusive welcoming society in which people from all over the world can make their homes and carve out successful careers.
Another benefit, of course, is the huge social contribution which is made to Irish society by these large companies, who so often become part of the communities in which they are located.
“ In some they have the third generation of the same families working for them,” says Redmond, who reveals that according to an independent evaluation by the American Chamber of Commerce of the social contribution of multinationals in Ireland, these firms are supporting 7,300 community programmes across Ireland.
This includes everything from local GAA clubs to education programmes, including the drive to encourage girls into STEM subject.
There are barriers, both real and perceived, for girls contemplating a career in the science and technology sector, and part of it, as Redmond says, is the lack of suitable role models for girls.
“Role models are so important, because if you cannot see it, you cannot be it,” he says, pointing to the Chamber’s Network for Women in Global Organisations, whose aim is to inspire future female leaders to overcome barriers and realise their potential.
Aside from all of this, a strong priority for the Chamber is balanced regional development:
“We’re really focused on US investment being spread throughout Ireland,” he says, emphasising that the roll-out of appropriate digital and physical infrastructure is crucial.
“Access to broadband throughout the country is important,” he says, pointing to the successful Ludgate hub in the West Cork town of Skibbereen. The announcement of plans last year by Fexco to create a major new digital hub innovation centre in Killorglin is warmly welcomed by the American Chamber of Commerce, Redmond says: “It will be a great addition. We need more of these investments to give more people increased choice about how they work and where they work from.”
The Chamber’s successful Future Leaders Network, which nurtures junior and middle managers to become the next generation of leaders, is working hard to nurture promising businesspeople. Between February 8th and 10th next, the Network is running a Future Leader Hackathon in which 100 of the Network’s future leaders get together to brainstorm and create a service or product — or an innovation — that facilitates Ireland to be the best place to live and work: “Our vision is that Ireland will be an island of talent at the centre of the world. We feel we should be creating our own talent, both through investment in education in Ireland, and attracting talent to Ireland, which by now is an increasingly desirable place in which to live and make a career.”
Redmond points to gaming and entertainment firm Blizzard, which this year marks a decade in Cork.
“Blizzard is very pleased with what the company has built in Cork — they’ve put Cork on the global gaming industry stage,” he says, adding that the quality teams which comprise the Blizzard workforce combine local and international talent.
“This is a company which works with several local charities so it’s also an excellent example of giving back and building quality teams combining local and international talent.”
While Ireland has an excellent track record in attracting global firms to locate a base here, Redmond warns that the competition from elsewhere has never been as strong: “We must emphasise the need for Ireland to keep a very strong focus on its competitiveness — we’re building on a very strong base, but other countries are really competing with us,” he says, that in the end decisions can often boil down to the experience of living here in terms of access to and choice of accommodation, choice of school, cost of car insurance, and Ireland’s personal tax regime.
“Right now we’re seeing a lot of Irish people who emigrated wanting to come back and we’re also seeing a lot of people coming to work in Ireland from abroad,” he says, adding that the market for property is currently very tight, both for those seeking to rent or to buy.
If Ireland wants to maintain its track record of being a desirable location, we must ensure that a good selection of accommodation is available both to purchase and rent, he emphasises.
Filling the infrastructural gaps, whether in terms of broadband rollout or in terms of the provision of adequate road infrastructure in a timely manner is crucial, says Redmond: “A lot of competitors are making significant investment in infrastructure,” he warns.