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Tiger roars onto info superhighway

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Harry Keaney

Ireland’s Celtic Tiger is fast becoming the master of a new habitat, the information superhighway. And he’s feeling quite at home in that virtual environment.

Running in tandem with Ireland’s unprecedented economic success is Irish export business’ eager adaptation to the electronic age. And nowhere is this more evident than in the area of corporate networking, particularly among export companies, a mainstay of the Irish economic success story.

Of course, the computer business itself is already a major — and fast growing — player in the Irish economy. After the U.S., Ireland is the world’s next biggest producer of computer software.

Ireland needs no reminder that it is operating in a truly global marketplace, and that the transfer of information within that marketplace is now instant. And that is something Irish companies, and their subsidiaries and competitors abroad, are using to their advantage. Today, Irish export business is operating as much in a virtual community as it is in the traditional one.

In New York last week, the concept was taken a stage further during a business lunch in Ireland House, on Park Avenue in Manhattan, when Ireland’s minister for international trade, Tom Kitt, launched what is called the East Coast on-line networking forum.

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The networking forum is organized by Enterprise Ireland, the Irish trade and technology board. Enterprise Ireland, in cooperation with Local Ireland, has established this on-line service to provide a networking facility for Irish information technology companies in the U.S.

Local Ireland is a Telecom Éireann initiative operated by Irish internet developer and consultant Nua Ltd., whose focus and expertise is in the management of on-line relationships and brands. Among those chiefly responsible for the launch of the new network is Niamh Bushnell of Enterprise Ireland, and Niall Swan, the director of U.S. operations for Nua and Local Ireland.

Virtual Ireland House

Ireland House, at 345 Park Avenue, houses a number of Irish agencies, including the Irish consulate. In an interview with the Irish Echo, Kitt revealed that plans are currently being made to create a virtual Ireland House.

"This is at an advanced stage and I am confident we can put it into operation by the end of February," Kitt said. "We see this development as complementing the work of the excellent people we have here. We are looking for new markets and access to a new constituency. Ireland is now known to be a high-tech growth country and we have to capitalize on that."

There are more than 20 Irish information technology companies active in the East Coast area of the U.S. Some of them have established bases in New York, Boston, Maryland and New Jersey. Others travel between Ireland and the U.S. on a regular basis and have established important business and technology partnerships with American companies.

Kitt pointed out that the U.S. was the single biggest source of inward investment in the Irish economy, with some 500 U.S. companies operating in Ireland. But, he said, the traffic was now moving both ways, as more Irish enterprises establish offices and facilities in the U.S. to be close to their customers, to identify strategic partners and engage in market expansion.

By the end of this year, more than 100 Irish companies are expected to have established U.S. offices — and that trend is expected to accelerate during the next four years.

John Corrigan, Enterprise Ireland’s CEO for the Americas, and host of last week’s luncheon at which the networking forum was launched, said that, according to recent central statistic office figures, Irish exports to the U.S. had increased by 67.4 percent. Corrigan pointed out that Ireland, a country of just more than three million people, sold more products to the U.S. in the current year than the U.S. sold to Ireland.

Against this background, it is obvious why the launch of the East Coast on-line networking forum is a timely and logical development.

"It is a virtual network," Kitt said. "A weekly e-mail will be sent to each member company to inform them of relevant issues for discussion. Information can be posted and queries can be directed to a bulletin board site for real-time interaction."

Greater interaction

Kitt said that Local Ireland had set up the site, which will be moderated and maintained by Enterprise Ireland.

"I believe it has tremendous potential for promoting greater interaction and cooperation between the companies, their customers and other business contacts," Kitt said.

He added: "The launch of the East Coast online networking forum is the first in a number of events that will take place during the next 12 months to develop closer relationships between Irish companies doing business in the U.S. The scale of opportunity for Irish companies in the U.S. remains huge and we are determined to demonstrate to American customers that we have got what it takes to compete for and win their business."

Kitt pointed out that combined information technology exports by Irish-owned companies to the U.S. are expected to jump from $300 million in 1997 to more than $1.4 billion in 2001 — by which time they are forecast to represent 50 percent of the value of all exports by Irish-owned companies in the U.S.

"These are truly remarkable statistics," he said.

Kitt said that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment in New York of Ireland’s first trade promotion office in the U.S. The U.S. is now Ireland’s third largest export market and, in recent years, it was the fastest growing of Ireland’s major export markets.

Kitt also said that the composition of Irish exports to the U.S., specifically by Irish-owned companies, was changing rapidly. During the last 10 years there has been excellent growth in Irish consumer product sales to the U.S. But this growth has been outpaced by a surge in Irish industrial exports in sectors as diverse in electronics, instrumentation, healthcare and ‘rospace.

"The biggest growth sector was information technology," Kitt said.

The address to log onto the network forum is http://new-york.local.ie/ITforum/

Meanwhile, in Ireland, another new internet site, the Plato website, launched last week, offers small businesses an opportunity to network. The site features a database of more than 700 companies throughout Ireland, links to useful websites for start-up companies seeking help, news on Plato events and online networking and discussion areas. The site is open to all the companies in the network, and anyone with an internet connection for an initial review period. Its address is www.plato.ie.

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