Foreign direct investment doesn’t happen in a bubble. From the moment multinational companies decide to set up operations in Ireland, they will need to interact with local service providers. Their needs may run the gamut from office fit-out, catering and construction, through to professional services such as recruitment, IT, legal and accounting services or public relations.
Some local companies formed specifically to meet multinationals’ needs. Others already in business found the steady flow of FDI a welcome income stream that enabled them to grow revenue and create jobs. These are some of their stories.
Urban Picnic owes its existence to a need created by the arrival of tech companies into Ireland. Large outsourced catering operations couldn’t meet the California-bred ethos of healthy food beloved of software and social media companies. The company’s founder Gavin Prendergast saw a gap in the market and pitched to Facebook. From operating out of his apartment in late 2009, he has expanded the company to 100 on-site catering staff in Facebook alone, and 185 employees overall. At one point, its client list also included LinkedIn, Twitter, Zynga and Airbnb.
Being local also has a different flavour in Ireland. When Urban Picnic was expanding, it chose a city centre base. With many of its customers clustered around Silicon Docks, it made sense to be physically nearby in order to be able to deliver faster.
The shorter physical distances that naturally occur in Ireland between the FDI operations and the indigenous service companies leads to better relationships. That’s the view of Dan Kiely, CEO of the technology outsourcing company Voxpro, who was interviewed for the Irish Times ‘Local Impact’ business supplement. “We have two centres, one in Silicon Docks, one in Mahon in Cork and I really believe the close proximity for our partners, such as Airbnb and Google, is a huge plus for them. They can actually walk from their offices to ours and that’s a massive thing. They don’t have to get on planes. We’re on their doorstep,” he said.
Strong customer base
The same trend of tech companies setting up in Ireland led Allan Chapman to set up Comit, a public relations and marketing agency. “In 1997, we were starting to see the emergence of multinational technology companies in Ireland, and that would have been important in our decision to specialise in the technology sector. Without that, we might not have felt that the space was big enough to justify specialising in this area,” he says.
Oracle was one of Comit’s first customers, 21 years ago. Today, almost 50 per cent of the company’s current client base are multinationals, including PayPal, Comtrade Digital Services, Esri, and Equinix. Having started as a one-person operation, Comit now employs eight people.
Boosting existing business
The construction company Sisk predates the arrival of multinationals by a distance – the company was founded in 1859. Now, that sector provides 50 per cent of the company’s turnover. At Asgard Cleanrooms, the percentage is even higher: 95 per cent of its business comes from customers like Pfizer, MSD, GSK, Eirgen, and BMS. Kilkenny-based Asgard company designs biotech cleanrooms for the biopharma and pharma sectors. The company employs 180 people and plans to hire 100 more.
Working with FDI companies and meeting their high expectations helps domestic businesses to improve their own business processes. “They’ve helped us to establish a very high level of engineering within our company and as a result we’re now leading the way. We’re pricing jobs in Indonesia, Switzerland, Germany, the US and Africa as a result of FDI,” Asgard’s managing director John Comerford told The Irish Times’ ‘Local Impact’ business supplement.
Learning best practice
Similarly, Allan Chapman says Comit has benefited from exposure to international companies’ way of working. “When you’re dealing with global leaders, you’ll find that right across their business, they have best practice in a lot of categories. Communications would be an area where they work at world-class standards, and it’s very good for us as an agency to continue to learn and develop. That has a knock-on impact on the service we provide to all our clients,” he says.
The benefits work both ways. Chapman believes multinationals gain an advantage by working with a local, focused team that knows the market, compared to engaging with a global agency that doesn’t know the territory. “What we bring to the table is an understanding of what the real issues on the ground that are impacting that company and its potential customer base. Number two, we bring an understanding of the local Irish media landscape, and who’s interested in writing about what. And we’ve built trusted relationships with the media who will be interested in writing about those companies in Ireland, to build up their customer and employer brand,” says Chapman.
The ‘Local Impact’ business supplement, published by the Irish Times, includes reporting on how foreign direct investment is benefiting many sectors of the domestic economy.
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