Amazon.com revealed last week that it will open a call center in Cork that will ultimately create 450 jobs. The center, which will be located in Cork Airport Industrial Park, could be open as early as this summer, with an initial staff of around 100.
The new facility is intended to act primarily as a support center for Amazon customers in the UK and France. It will also act as a back up for an existing facility in Germany during periods when demand is particularly intense.
The Amazon announcement extends a period that has seen remarkable good news for Cork on the jobs front. In January, American biopharmaceutical giant Amgen announced one of the biggest investments in Ireland in the history of the State. Amgen declared that it would invest more than $1 billion in a new facility near the County Cork town of Carrigtwohill. That deal is expected to bring a massive infusion of jobs – around 1,100 – to the area by the year 2010.
Late January and early February saw two other major announcements. Financial services group Citco said that it would create more than 250 new jobs in the Blackrock neighborhood of Cork City; the EU also gave the go-ahead for a $58 million Irish government grant to help secure investment from another pharmaceutical company, Centocor. The approval of the grant cleared the way for the creation of around 750 jobs in the town of Ringaskiddy.
There is a long history in Ireland, as in the U.S., of influential politicians closing deals that benefit their home region. In this instance, it has almost certainly been helpful to Cork that Ireland’s current Minister for Enterprise, Micheal Martin, is a native of the county and a TD representing the Cork South-Central constituency.
Welcoming the Amazon deal, Martin noted that the online retailer only set up its first operations in Ireland last year, when it opened a systems and network facility at Dublin’s so-called Digital Hub.
“We hoped that the company, having experienced first-hand what Ireland has to offer the most advanced technology companies in the world, would decide to invest further in Ireland,” he said. “Today’s announcement is the realization of that hope.”
Martin added: “Amazon’s decision to locate their new call center in Cork is significant in terms of the number of positions created and will enhance Ireland’s reputation as a base for the most sophisticated global digital media companies. In addition, today’s announcement is further testament [to] Ireland’s ability to effectively compete with the most advanced countries in the world for investments of this caliber.”
Ireland is believed to have overcome significant competition from Eastern Europe in order to win the investment from Amazon. The deal also appears to be the latest proof of the dividends that can be gained from a good education system.
According to a report in The Irish Times, Amazon already employs 90 people in Slough, England, who help address the needs of British and French customers. However, the company was not confident that it could expand the English facility, because it believed it would have trouble finding enough people close to Slough with the requisite language skills. It now seems possible that the jobs currently located in Slough will move across the Irish Sea.
The presence of one of Ireland’s leading universities, University College Cork, was considered a significant factor in Amazon’s decision to set up the new call center in the city.
Educational and technological accomplishment also played a significant role in some of the other major investments to come to Cork recently. When Amgen announced its huge deal, company spokeswoman Sarah Reines told the Echo that “the region has become a biopharmaceutical hub with many people already working in the industry. There is also a very vibrant university culture and we will be hoping to attract people from there.”
Another factor in most of these investments has been the financial and infrastructural support provided by IDA Ireland, the State body charged with attracting direct foreign investment. The IDA’s contribution was acknowledged by Amazon’s director of European customer service, Jim Adkins.
“Cork offers Amazon the ability to provide our customers with multilingual support, something that is critically important as we continue to grow our business,” Adkins said.
“We received tremendous support and encouragement from IDA Ireland during the last year and we look forward to continued success with them in the future.”
Amazon is a Fortune 500 company that has long ago transcended its origins as an online bookseller. It now offers a plethora of products including jewelry and watches, gourmet food, CDs and DVDs. It declared revenues of $8.4 billion for 2005.
However, not everyone is a fan of the company’s corporate approach, which some criticize as evasive and opaque. A recent report in The New York Times claimed that Wall Street analysts who cover the internet would name Amazon as the “one company [that] stands out as the least forthcoming, most furtive, least transparent and most difficult to work with.”