IT’S almost 35 years to the day since a brilliant young tech executive called Steve Jobs arrived in Ireland for the official opening of his fledgling computer company’s European headquarters in Cork.
Apple, which was co-founded by the late Jobs just a few years earlier, has since gone on to become a global tech giant, shaping how we live our lives today.
The little manufacturing operation he helped open in Hollyhill, on the northside of Cork City on November 24, 1980 — staffed by a team of just 60 people — has gone on to become one of Apple’s most important operations outside its Cupertino, California, base, and one of Cork’s largest private employers.
Yesterday’s announcement that it plans to build a new office block on its Hollyhill campus to accommodate up to 1,000 new employees by 2017 — a move which will bring its Irish workforce close to 6,000 — is a major vote of confidence in the Cork region specifically, and Ireland Inc in general.
Caught up with our world-class team in Cork today. Thanks, Ireland, for a great visit! pic.twitter.com/jVoTEmoFWJ— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) November 11, 2015
Founded in 1976 and formally incorporated in the US in 1977, Apple established the Hollyhill campus just three years later. The late TD Gene Fitzgerald unveiled a plaque on the site on November 24, 1980, flanked by its then vice-chairman Steve Jobs, chairman Mike Markkula, and managing director Alec Wrafter.
With an investment of £7m and the promise of up to 700 jobs within a few years, the company was one of the last multinationals to benefit from “tax holidays”, which ended in 1980.
At a time of mass youth emigration, the company’s arrival was hailed as a major boost not just for Cork City but for the State, as the Government tried to position Ireland as a welcome base for the emerging hi-tech sector.
Within three years, the city would be dealt the first of two massive employment blows — the closure of the Dunlops tyres plant and the loss of 850 jobs in 1983, and the closure a year later of the iconic Ford motor company’s Cork operation, with the loss of 800 jobs.
Despite a deepening recession, the Apple operation, which focused primarily on manufacturing and distribution of Mac computers in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, flourished and expanded to employment levels of around 2,000 by the end of the decade.
Despite speculation through the late ’80s and early ’90s that some of its activities could be moved abroad to low-wage economies, the success of the personal computer helped the Cork campus hold its own.
But in 1999, the company announced it was relocating the production of the iMac to the Far East and 500 jobs were cut, sparking concerns that this marked the beginning of the end of Apple’s presence in Ireland.
However, the launch of the iPod in 2001, the iPhone in 2007, and in recent years the iPad, transformed the company’s fortunes.
Apple’s Irish executives, who, like their US counterparts, are notoriously wary of the media — they refused to comment on yesterday’s announcement and allowed only RTÉ access to the plant — then embarked on a major restructuring of the Cork operation into “integrated operations centre”.
This ensured the Cork facility played a critical role in facilitating Apple’s growing profits and, by 2010, its 2,800 staff were providing a range of services to Apple subsidiaries around the world, as well as distributing and selling Apple products globally.
In 2012, the company announced plans to build a new office block on the Hollyhill campus, creating another 500 jobs. Over the last year alone, Apple has created up to 1,000 jobs here, and it announced plans last February to build an €850m data centre in Athenry. It has invested over €100m in its Cork operation since 2009 alone.
Despite concerns about Apple’s tax deal here and the contract nature of its jobs, yesterday’s announcement
is one of the single biggest jobs announcements since the start of the recession.
There was a broad welcome across the political spectrum for the promised jobs, underlining the importance of Apple’s presence not just in Cork, but in Ireland.
But comedian Oliver Callan took a different view and tweeted: “Ireland gave Apple 2% tax rt, saving $19bn. In return they give us ‘up to’ 1000 new low end jobs.”
Staff working at the plant were quick to defend their employer and said Apple is a great company to work for, that their jobs and pay packets are far from low end, and that the company has been great for Cork.
Whatever your view, the scale of the Hollyhill operation is vast, with manufacturing, supply chain, sales support, distribution, technology support, and customer care, mapping, and shared services operations all taking place within one campus.
The IDA says Apple supports nearly 18,000 jobs across the country, including Crest Solutions, founded by a former Apple employee and based in Little Island, Cork, which provides automatic inspection machines, and Sligo-based Automatic Technology Services, which supplies system integration technology to the facility.
Yesterday’s announcement has been in the pipeline for some time and is the result of high-level talks between the Government and company executives over several years, and thanks to work on the ground by officials in Cork City Council.
Earlier this year, Traveller residents were relocated from a halting site in the shadow of the Hollyhill facility to a new purpose-built housing scheme nearby, paving the way for a rezoning decision to facilitate job creation on the land. It is understood this area will play a key role in the company’s expansion plans.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who met Apple CEO Tim Cook in Dublin yesterday morning, will be among several people anxiously awaiting the outcome of the EU investigation into Ireland’s tax treatment of Apple, which is expected soon.
Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath, who hailed the jobs boost, said: “This success should embolden the State to strenuously defend our relationship with Apple and other major multi-national firms from the envying eyes of other European countries who would like to prise away jobs from Ireland.”