IDA ‘cannot force firms to locate in the regions’

The head of the State body responsible for attracting foreign investment into the country yesterday said that even though he was very aware of the jobs crisis in the south-east, it was very hard for his agency to do anything about it.

“The south-east is suffering badly, but ultimately companies decide where they want to go,” IDA chief executive Barry O’Leary told the Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Innovation and Enterprise.

Mr O’Leary says the IDA had spent millions of euro in developing the appropriate support services for foreign direct investment in Waterford but that companies had decided to go elsewhere.

Part of the reason is much of the IDA’s pipeline of business comes from high growth sectors such as technology, medical devices and life sciences among other areas.

However, investors in these sectors tend to locate where there is already a “cluster effect” of similar companies. Waterford or the south-east does not have any cluster of companies in high growth sectors because of its reliance in the past on traditional industries, said Mr O’Leary.

But Mr O’Leary did cite investments in regions such as Sligo, Limerick, Athlone, Westport and Galway over the past 18 months.

Overall, the IDA chief struck an upbeat tone. He said there had been some significant jobs announcements so far this year, including Paypal, Apple and Mylan and there was more in the pipeline for the remainder of the year.

The reputational damage Ireland may have suffered during the financial crisis is no longer a problem when trying to attract investment from the US or Europe.

However, the IDA is finding it difficult to crack the lucrative Asian markets because Ireland has very little brand recognition in the region, he said.

The agency is constantly monitoring the landscape for new developments, such as cloud computing. There had to be continued investment in next generation telecommunications, education and skills and improving competitiveness, he said.

“40% of all jobs in the future from FDI will need a language or technology qualification,” he said.

Mr O’Leary said that while there had been a lot of negative media attention about skills shortages, the situation on the ground was encouraging.

Companies that found it hard to locate talent in the local markets generally had no difficulties attracting the requisite skills from abroad, he added.

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