Ireland’s investment agency is paying closer attention to Atlanta as a pool of growth companies seeking to globalize their operations.
As the city’s tech scene grows, IDA Ireland, the country’s inbound investment agency, is aiming to pitch itself as the preferred European gateway.
IDA already has an office in Atlanta, but this week, professionals from its high-growth companies division stopped back through the city after a visit to a venture forum IDA sponsored in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“We’d like at least a seat at the table to showcase, ‘Why Ireland,’” said Gerard Hayes, vice president of business development for IDA, based in Austin, Texas.
IDA hasn’t yet sponsored a major tech conference like Venture Atlanta or the Georgia Technology Summit as it has done in other cities like Boston and Washington. But it’s weighing the option this year as it delves deeper into the city’s tech ecosystem, Mr. Hayes said.
Already, IDA has netted some big wins from Atlanta. Fintech darling Kabbage Inc. agreed to set up a presence in Ireland in March after Ireland’s government invested 50 million euros in Kabbage’s parent, Reverence Capital Partners. Soon after that, Kabbage received a $250 million equity investment from Softbank, the Japanese telecom giant.
N3, the Atlanta-based outsourced sales and marketing company, announced last week that it would put an additional 100 jobs in Ireland, doubling its workforce.
Barry O’Dowd, senior vice president and head of emerging business and new forms of investment for IDA in Dublin, told Global Atlanta that the shift toward smaller companies with a potential to blast off is part of Ireland’s diversification away from massive multinationals.
Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and others employ thousands at major outposts in Ireland, but concerns have arisen that the nation of 6 million is almost too dependent on outside investment from American giants. IDA, indeed, has set new internal records for jobs created and projects recruited in the last few years, with the U.S. leading the way.
Some fret that the changes to the U.S. tax code will stall that momentum. The new 20 percent rate in the U.S. narrows the formerly drastic disparity between the U.S. and Ireland’s sacrosanct 12.5 percent corporate rate.
But IDA has a different view: The reforms could touch off even more growth in the U.S. economy, leading to more optimism that translates into increased investment. Those trends would likely mean a push for more European sales offices or research hubs, which are especially important for fast-growing tech firms.
“A lot of the tech companies — their mindset is to go global from day one,” said Mr. O’Dowd.
In addition to the fintech sector, Mr. O’Dowd said Ireland is seeking companies involved in cutting-edge sectors like artificial intelligence, analytics, robotics, automation, machine-learning and especially, life sciences.
Mr. O’Dowd pointed to ex-Atlanta successes like Indeed.com and New Relic as examples of Irish momentum.
So far, U.S. tax reform hasn’t yet taken a toll on company relocations, as taxes are just a small part of Ireland’s competitive set.
“You have to start from the market point of view,” Mr. O’Dowd said, pointing to the 450 million customers within the European Union and the ability to draw employees from that same pool.
While Ireland didn’t root for the United Kingdom’s pending exit from the EU, it has already begun to see some fruit in the form of corporate relocations from London, as financial services companies in particular aim to reckon with the yet uncertain implications of Brexit.
Ireland is also proving attractive given upcoming changes to EU privacy laws, Mr. O’Dowd said. An English-speaking country with a legal system similar to the U.S., Ireland is a comfortable place for companies looking to deal with the new General Data Protection Regulation, set to go into effect in May. The regulation governs how digital firms handle customer data.
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