Why are so many firms in­vest­ing in

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Sunday Business - Gavin McLough­lin

ACENTURY and a half ago, a band of Fe­ni­ans con­ducted raids on Canada in an at­tempt to strike a blow against Bri­tish rule in Ire­land. Need­less to say, the ef­fort was a fail­ure. John O’Neill — a key leader of the Fe­nian band — wanted to make it clear how­ever that he had no quar­rel with the Cana­di­ans. “We come among you as the foes of Bri­tish rule in Ire­land,” he said. “We are here as the Ir­ish army of lib­er­a­tion.”

To­day that spirit of Ir­ish-Cana­dian ca­ma­raderie en­dures as Ire­land be­comes some­thing of a hot­bed for Cana­dian busi­ness.

In a speech to mark the visit of Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau to Ire­land last sum­mer, Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar said trade be­tween the two coun­tries was worth €2.75bn. Cana­dian in­vest­ment in Ire­land was val­ued at €10bn, he said.

Per­haps the most high-pro­file com­po­nent of that in­vest­ment is in­surer and pen­sions provider Ir­ish Life — bought off the State by Win­nipeg-based Great West Lifeco. The deal saw Ir­ish Life com­bined with Great West’s Canada Life busi­ness — which has had a pres­ence in Ire­land in 1903. There was, said the then Great West boss Allen Loney, a “good cul­ture fit”.

And cul­ture is the word that keeps com­ing up when you speak to Cana­dian busi­nesses op­er­at­ing here.

“A lot has been writ­ten about Amer­i­can multi­na­tion­als in Ire­land – that’s been on­go­ing for 50-60 years,” John Rior­dan, di­rec­tor of sup­port for Ire­land at Cana­dian ecom­merce busi­ness Shopify.

“But there are a lot of sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween the Cana­dian cul­ture and the Ir­ish cul­ture. In my ex­pe­ri­ence the two coun­tries seem to gel. From a busi­ness cul­ture per­spec­tive, they’re very sim­i­lar in na­ture. In the same way that we’ve al­ways been the scrappy kid brother to the UK, Canada has been the scrappy kid brother to the US. And there’s a sim­i­lar mind­set as a re­sult of that.”

Shopify’s op­er­a­tion in Ire­land is pri­mar­ily fo­cused on cus­tomer sup­port. It’s an area that has been grow­ing in Ire­land in re­cent years, de­spite the per­cep­tion that th­ese jobs are all be­ing out­sourced to low-cost coun­tries in Asia. Part of the rea­son, says Rior­dan, is that Ir­ish peo­ple are per­ceived as be­ing em­pa­thetic — they are good lis­ten­ers.

Shopify has more than 200 peo­ple based in Ire­land but has no of­fice — ev­ery sin­gle per­son works re­motely.

“We han­dle cus­tomer queries from all coun­tries around the world — we’ve been in Ire­land al­most three years. We looked at a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent places out­side of Canada. Ire­land was one of the more at­trac­tive places be­cause of the tal­ent pool that was avail­able.”

Another Cana­dian busi­ness get­ting in­volved in the cus­tomer sup­port busi­ness is Telus, which bought a ma­jor­ity stake in Dan and Linda Kiely’s Vox­pro in one of the most high-pro­file Ir­ish deals of the year. Telus CEO Jef­frey Pu­ritt said his Toronto-based com­pany and the Kielys’ Cork op­er­a­tion were “like-minded or­gan­i­sa­tions”.

“To­gether, we pro­vide a truly dif­fer­en­ti­ated of­fer­ing in the mar­ket­place de­signed to meet our fast-grow­ing part­ner de­mands for more lo­ca­tions, flex­i­ble and ag­ile sup­port struc­tures, and highly en­gaged mul­ti­lin­gual team mem­bers com­mit­ted to cus­tomer ser­vice ex­cel­lence,” he said.

Chris Col­lenette is a Cana­dian con­sul­tant work­ing at the Ir­ish law firm Philip Lee. He works to in­crease the firm’s Cana­dian busi­ness and en­cour­ages Cana­dian com­pa­nies to come and lo­cate in Ire­land, in tan­dem with Ir­ish and Cana­dian gov­ern­ment agen­cies. Pre­vi­ously an ad­viser to former Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Jean Chre­tien. He has a good han­dle on how to per­suade a Cana­dian com­pany to lo­cate here.

“There are a num­ber of things we would high­light. There’s ge­og­ra­phy. Ire­land is the clos­est ge­o­graph­i­cal coun­try in Europe to Canada and there are now weekly di­rect flights from Dublin to Toronto, Mon­treal and Van­cou­ver. Two, the lin­guis­tic sim­i­lar­i­ties. Three, the le­gal sys­tems are quite sim­i­lar. Four, there are shared val­ues – 14pc of the Cana­dian pop­u­la­tion claim them­selves as hav­ing Ir­ish back­ground,” Col­lenette says.

“Tal­ent is a big part too. There’s a huge hub of in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies in Ire­land, and if you want to scale into Europe, you are go­ing to need a tal­ented work­force to do so. Com­pa­nies might have a great idea or a great prod­uct, but they also need peo­ple to drive the busi­ness for­ward.

“We would also talk about tax ad­van­tages such as the com­pet­i­tive cor­po­rate tax rate and the Knowl­edge De­vel­op­ment Box, but we would lead with the sim­i­lar­i­ties in lan­guage, the le­gal sys­tem, ge­og­ra­phy and of course tal­ent.”

Another per­son who’s been im­pressed by Ir­ish tal­ent is Alan Fuller­ton. His com­pany Tekni­cor, based in Toronto and a spe­cial­ist in data cen­tre ar­chi­tec­ture, has just em­barked on a re­cruit­ment cam­paign here.

His aim is to em­ploy 70 to 100 engi­neers in Ire­land within the next three years.

“It’s a very ac­com­mo­dat­ing en­vi­ron­ment for busi­ness. We’ve been im­pressed by the skillsets that are there,” Fuller­ton told the Sun­day In­de­pen­dent.

“We’re find­ing it a very ed­u­cated, ex­pe­ri­enced work­force to draw from for what we do. The cul­ture is very sim­i­lar to a Cana­dian cul­ture in a way and we’re pretty ex­cited to get the team on board to start speak­ing to our cus­tomers glob­ally.”

Fuller­ton’s busi­ness op­er­ates in a num­ber of other coun­tries and he sin­gles out the IDA as a strong pro­moter of what this coun­try has to of­fer.

“There’s a mas­sive dif­fer­ence be­tween what Ire­land does to at­tract busi­ness ver­sus the other ge­ogra­phies that we op­er­ate in.

“The IDA are very in­ter­ested in bring­ing in­vest­ment to Ire­land and in my opin­ion the ap­proach works. There’s a spec­tac­u­lar hub of tech­nol­ogy busi­nesses in Ire­land, they’ve been there a long time.

“There’s a great group of sup­port ser­vices, whether it’s the IDA or oth­ers, that make it a lot eas­ier for us to come over and get go­ing.”

Cana­dian cap­i­tal is also flow­ing into Ire­land in a man­ner that per­haps you wouldn’t ex­pect. The coun­try is a ma­jor hub for the min­er­als ex­plo­ration in­dus­try, and with the price of zinc boom­ing there’s been a sig­nif­i­cant up­surge in ac­tiv­ity in zinc ex­plo­ration in Ire­land.

Lead­ing the charge is Group Eleven Re­sources, run by Cana­dian Bart Ja­worski.

That com­pany has been on a fundrais­ing spree and has just com­pleted a stock mar­ket flota­tion in Toronto as it seeks to de­velop its prospects. Among the com­pany’s back­ers is MAG Sil­ver, another Toronto-listed busi­ness that has had suc­cess ex­plor­ing for sil­ver in Mex­ico.

Some of Group Eleven’s big­gest prospects were bought from Teck, a Cana­dian min­ing gi­ant that has been ac­tive here.

Other Cana­dian-linked com­pa­nies ac­tive in the sec­tor here in­clude Hannan Met­als, which has been do­ing some drilling at a prospect at Kil­bricken in Co Clare.

Else­where in ex­plo­ration, the oil and gas ex­plorer Nexen — Cana­dian in her­itage but re­cently bought by the Chi­nese state na­tional oil com­pany — took a stake in a prospect lo­cated near the Cor­rib field last year in a deal that in­dus­try sources re­garded as per­haps the best farm-in deal in the Ir­ish off­shore of 2017. And speak­ing of the Cor­rib field, one of its new own­ers is Ver­mil­ion En­ergy, head­quar­tered in Canada.

Cana­dian busi­nesses are in­volved in the oil busi­ness here, right the way through from ex­plo­ration to putting petrol in your car. The White­gate re­fin­ery in Cork is owned by Canada’s Irv­ing Oil, while petrol sta­tion busi­ness Topaz was sold by Dig­i­cel chair­man De­nis O’Brien to the Que­be­cois busi­ness Couche Tard in 2016.

When Trudeau came to visit Ire­land last year, a lot of the fo­cus was on the tele­genic Ot­tawa na­tive’s choice of socks. His colour­ful choices in that re­gard have be­come some­thing of a brand­ing point, and of course Leo Varad­kar tried to get in on the trend too with a pair of maple leaf socks.

“The eco­nomic ties be­tween Canada and Ire­land are strong ... we worked hard to­gether with our other Euro­pean part­ners to cre­ate good jobs for our cit­i­zens by rat­i­fy­ing [EU-Canada trade deal] Ceta,” Trudeau said in a speech dur­ing the visit.

“Through­out the lengthy ne­go­ti­a­tion process Ire­land was a stead­fast sup­porter of this his­toric trade deal, and I know that all of us are look­ing for­ward to the good jobs and the greater op­por­tu­ni­ties it will af­ford both our coun­tries,” he added.

With the deal now pro­vi­sion­ally in force, there’ll be more scope for Cana­dian busi­nesses to come and op­er­ate here. That’s what the IDA is hop­ing any­way. The State agency is plan­ning to es­tab­lish an of­fice in Canada, cit­ing Ceta as well as the Nafta rene­go­ti­a­tions, Brexit and the in­tro­duc­tion of the GDPR.

The IDA’s stats say there are 35 Cana­dian com­pa­nies ap­proved in Ire­land, with an em­ploy­ment base in ex­cess of 3,790 peo­ple.

That’s an in­crease of more than a third since 2014.

“The IDA has adopted a highly di­ver­si­fied cross-sec­toral ap­proach in the de­vel­op­ment of new busi­ness across the Cana­dian mar­ket. Our strong per­for­mance demon­strates the re­silience of the Ir­ish of­fer­ing,” an IDA spokesper­son said.

But for Trudeau, the most im­por­tant con­nec­tion be­tween Ire­land and Canada was a shared set of val­ues.

And judg­ing by what the Cana­dian busi­nesses op­er­at­ing here have to say, it’s the cul­tural links, the val­ues re­lat­ing to peo­ple, that will have the most im­por­tant part to play in se­cur­ing fu­ture Cana­dian in­vest­ment.

This time around, there’ll be no in­va­sions re­quired.

There are 35 Cana­dian com­pa­nies ap­proved in Ire­land, with an em­ploy­ment base in ex­cess of 3,790 peo­ple. That’s an in­crease of more than a third since 2014, ac­cord­ing to the IDA

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