Bill Godwin (left) and Fiona McLaughlin (right) of the Irish Industrial Development Authority visited Global Atlanta to discuss what Ireland is doing to attract foreign investment.

Modern industries like biotechnology and information technology services are transforming perceptions that Ireland shares the malaise of its slowly recovering European neighbors, top Irish Industrial Development Agency executives recently told Global Atlanta.

Before the economic collapse and throughout the late 1990s and early-to-mid 2000s, the country set record-breaking growth rates, attracting hundreds of foreign companies and earning the nickname “Celtic Tiger.”

During this time, companies like Google Inc. poured millions of investment dollars into the country setting up regional headquarters as Ireland framed itself as a gateway for high-tech industries to enter the European market, a message it’s had to adapt through the worst of the economic downturn. 

Large foreign direct investment has been a crucial part of Ireland’s recovery, and now the IDA is looking for additional partners in the Southeast to invest in the country via key economic sectors like biotechnology, Bill Godwin, vice president of IDA Ireland, told Global Atlanta in September.

In town from Dublin, Ireland, to meet potential Atlanta-based investors last month on a tour including Chicago and Minneapolis, Mr. Godwin said modern industries have been a key factor in the county’s ongoing economic recovery and are changing how others view the country.

“The modern industries are making Ireland’s peripherality as an island irrelevant,” Mr. Godwin said.

Large investments in Southern states like North Carolina and Georgia from companies like Baxter International Inc, which just broke ground on its new $1.3 billion manufacturing facility in Covington in August, have attracted the IDA’s eye to region, he continued.

The biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries in Ireland alone contributed for more than 50 percent of total exports in 2010, employing more than 24,000 people at the height of the global economic downturn. 

In fact, nine of the 10 largest multinational pharmaceutical companies now have major business centers in Ireland, including Eli Lilly and Co., Abbot Laboratories Inc. and Allergan Inc., which have all announced multi-million dollar expansions in the past year.  

Besides the more than $5 billion Ireland has secured in investments by leading life science companies, it has also become a European hub over the past decade for tech and social media companies like Google, Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. in a Dublin corridor sometimes compared to California‘s Silicon Valley.

Mr. Godwin credits the country’s educated and English-speaking workforce and status as a eurozone country as reasons why more than 1,000 foreign-owned companies now maintain operations in Ireland.

Further, Ireland’s low 12.5 percent corporate tax makes the country more competitive with other European countries, Mr. Godwin said. 

Several major tech companies like Facebook, Google and Apple Inc have also been known to take advantage of quirks in Irish tax law — known as the Double Irish arrangement — that allow companies to minimize their tax liabilities by shifting funds to offshore bank accounts via Irish subsidiaries. 

In recent years, the country has taken several unconventional steps to attract foreign direct investment. 

For example, in June, the country launched a referral program known as ConnectIreland that offers ordinary citizens up to 1,500 euros for every job they can convince a feign company to create in Ireland. 

For more information on the program’s summer launch in Atlanta, click here.