Enterprise Ireland serves to support indigenous Irish companies that are seeking to expand their businesses overseas. In the U.S., at least, EI’s success appears to have been considerable.
The organization claims that the number of Irish companies with offices in the U.S. has expanded by a factor of five since 1998, despite the economic turbulence that followed the bursting of the tech bubble and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Irish investment in America was valued at $21 billion in 2004 by the U.S. Department of Commerce, a tenfold increase within a decade.
“We expect that trend to continue,” Marina Donohoe, Enterprise Ireland’s Director Americas, told the Irish Echo. “The signs are all very, very strong.”
Donohoe also said that she agreed “absolutely” with those who contend that Irish investment in the U.S. has been underreported, even while investment in Ireland by American behemoths like Microsoft and Google has hit the headlines in recent weeks. Many of the press stories have centered on the idea that U.S.-based corporations are using Ireland as a glorified tax haven.
“I think certainly the story that is most commonly told is that of U.S. investment in Ireland,” Donohoe noted. “But that story has been going on for 30-plus years. It is only in the past 10-to-15 years that investment by Irish companies in the U.S. has really taken off.”
The Celtic Tiger years may have given Irish companies greater confidence about exporting their expertise abroad. But, for some, it has also provided so much lucrative work in Ireland that there has been little need to look abroad for new business. Donohoe is among those who believe that this means there is further room to increase Irish investment in the U.S.
Many Irish companies face big hurdles when they try to establish themselves in the U.S., however, including a lack of familiarity with American business culture and, often, a dearth of real business contacts:
“Irish companies can’t just do it all alone,” the EI director noted. “Obviously there is an enormous amount that is unknown when they are just starting out, not least because this is such a huge market.”
The landmass of the contiguous United States is approximately 130 times that of the island of Ireland, while the nation’s population is 73 times as big. Many Irish companies find it difficult to adapt to a market that demands focus on particular locales, and where the kind of distribution model commonly used in Ireland simply doesn’t work.
According to Donohoe, Irish companies have not yet fully utilized one significant resource. She believes that the expatriate community and the wider Irish-American diaspora can play an enormously supportive role to Irish companies. Some Irish ex-pats and Irish Americans, she said, have been to the fore in helping new corporate arrivals find their way.
In recognition of these pioneering contributions, EI and Ireland’s ambassador to the U.S., Noel Fahey, hosted a dinner last month at the ambassador’s residence in Washington, DC. The dinner was a private affair, open only to the ambassador, five honorees and their spouses, and two EI executives.
The honorees were Brendan McDonagh, the Irish-born COO of HSBC Bank USA; Paul Grillo, founder of tech company 3rd Dimension; Thomas Corcoran, Irish-American president of management consulting firm Corcoran Enterprises; John Hartnett, Irish-born senior vice-president, Americas, of palmOne; and John Kelly, an Irish-American stalwart of the insurance industry.
Enterprise Ireland intends to make this an annual affair through which a handful of people from the American corporate world will have the assistance they provide to Irish companies duly celebrated.
For the quintet who were honored this year, Donohoe noted, there was generally no reason, from a selfish perspective, for them to have leant such significant assistance.
“These are very senior executives in corporate America, and the introductions they’ve made and the strategic advice they have offered to our client companies has been invaluable,” she said. “They continue to give their time and effort, and they don’t get compensated for it.”
During the dinner, each honoree was also presented with a limited edition sculpture made from 5000-year-old Irish bog oak. The sculpture was named “Collaboration.” It was made by the Celtic Roots studio, an Enterprise Ireland client with its home base in the Midlands town of Athlone.
“It represents the strength of the relationship between Ireland and America,” Donohoe said.
“The five people who were honored this year represent a wider group, but they are also the guys who delivered most in the past year,” she said. “The interest they show in supporting Irish industry is outstanding.”