One economy is the old Celtic Tiger, the globally competitive, highly productive export machine centered in the large companies and located in the major cities. While a few are homegrown — Kerry Group in food processing, Smurfit Kappa and Ardagh Glass in containers, CRH Construction and Ryanair — most are European and American. All benefit from Ireland’s low corporate tax rate, flexible labor laws and English-speaking workforce, supplemented by a steady flow of modest government subsidies for job creation and research and development. The fall of the euro, the decline in real estate values and the moderation of starting wages have combined to make Ireland an even more attractive place for new foreign direct investment, which hit record levels in the past two years.
Any doubts about the vibrancy of this economy are easily dispelled on a Friday night when tens of thousands of young workers from companies such as Google, Facebook and Citigroup spill onto the street from the bars and restaurants of Dublin’s once-seedy Temple Bar neighborhood or into the modern plazas and redeveloped warehouses of the city’s Dockland area. Many have emigrated from elsewhere in Europe, lured by the prospect of good jobs at global companies, the opportunity to polish their English and a city full of people just like themselves.
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One of the first multinationals to put down roots in Ireland, back in the 1980s, was the old Digital Equipment Corp., the leading maker of the “mini-computer,” which looked like it might knock off mainframe computing until things such as personal computers and servers came along. At its height, Digital had 1,500 workers assembling its computers on the eastside of Galway.
While Digital is no more, its experience in Ireland speaks to the dynamism and adaptability of the multinational sector here. Some of its engineers went off to start companies during the tech bubble of the 1990s, while many of its Irish executives leveraged their Digital experience to gain top positions in other multinationals. And what’s left of Digital eventually made its way to Hewlett-Packard, which still employs 650 people in Galway, many of them engineers and programmers doing research and development or providing advanced business services such as “cloud” computing.
Mark Gantly, managing director of HP’s Galway operations, said one reason for Ireland’s success with U.S. multinationals is that Irish workers tend to thrive in the bureaucratically “flat,” egalitarian organizations favored by American companies. No doubt, he said, it also helps that Irish managers come culturally equipped with the charm to maintain smooth relations with difficult and demanding superiors back at corporate headquarters.
One important facet of that globally competitive sector includes Ireland’s top universities, which engage in extensive research collaboration with industry and government. Certainly the best known, and most lavishly funded is the Center for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices (CRANN) here at Trinity College. CRANN boasts 300 researchers from 45 countries, working hand in hand with more than 125 companies such as Intel and Merck. The companies make use of CRANN’s research and facilities, while CRANN’s students and post-doctoral fellows gain insights, experience and jobs at the companies.