It’s been a good week for Ireland. Down in New Zealand the country’s rugby football team finds itself on top of its group and comfortably on the way to the knock out stages of the Rugby World Cup. Ireland has been punching well above its weight on the international rugby field for nearly a decade now.* Even the shock of the country’s devastating economic collapse has failed to dent the skill, artistry and tenacity of its rugby athletes. Nor do those same qualities appear to have deserted the Irish Development Agency, which this week announced that Twitter is to open an international operations centre in Dublin (the announcement was made on Twitter, of course).
Twitter will join other new media giants that have fallen for Ireland’s charms. They include Google, which has some 2,000 staff in Ireland, Pay Pal, Facebook, Electronic Arts, Zynga and Linkedin.
Ireland’s corporation tax of 12.5% is certainly a big attraction. It is of course English-speaking, has well educated people and, following its economic troubles, has a very competitive economy in wages, office space and high quality housing. All of this makes Ireland hard to resist for any business with international markets seeking a competitive cost base, good people and good connections. But Ireland has something else. It’s an asset that adds lustre and value to the hard and demanding businesses of FDI. The Irish know how to make life fun.
Many years ago, when I was running an inward investment office in London on behalf of five development agencies in Scotland, it was always a great thrill to get an invitation to the IDA’s St Patrick’s Day party at its office in upmarket Bond St. It was the best party in town and always packed with London’s elite from business, financial, media and diplomatic circles. Everyone was made warmly welcome, a glass was never allowed to stay empty and IDA staff worked tirelessly to help guests make new friends and contacts. Running a great party in a commercial environment is not easy. Hospitality can seem forced and the hosts are often nervous about potential cultural gaffes or upsetting somebody who might have an inflated view of their own importance. The Irish by-passed all such fears by running a business party in exactly the same way as they would a party in an Irish home. In Ireland, a home is a place that wants to make visitors and strangers feel completely at home and entirely welcome and comfortable. We’re not bad at this in my native Scotland and the Welsh are no slackers either, but the Irish are masterful.
If the IDA’s work starts with a big welcome and wonderful hospitality, it’s nursing of an FDI opportunity leaves little to be desired. Like all the very best IPAs (again the Scots and the Welsh stand out, as do the Maltese and the Finns) the IDA professionals nurture and champion every opportunity; guiding a company through the labyrinth, shifting barriers out of the way, easing paths, opening doors, staying in touch, responding at speed; at every step giving the investor more and more confidence that they’ll make the right choice in choosing Ireland. The growth figures for the UK and most of Europe make pretty grim reading at present, but Ireland is growing. It’s modest growth right now, but the IDA is showing how vital a blue chip IPA is to economic recovery and to building for the future.
*For those of you not familiar with Rugby Football, I should explain that the Irish international side is made up of players from the Republic of Ireland and from Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK. The IDA on the other hand represents only the Republic of Ireland.