As we approach the end of 2016, a year that has seen further significant FDI investment in Limerick I chat with Niall O’Callaghan, IDA Regional Development Manager for the Mid-West region.
A native of Adare in County Limerick, Niall is a graduate of UL where he received a degree in Production Management and a postgraduate of UCC where he received a Masters in Food Marketing.
After graduation, Niall launched his career in Dublin where he began working in the FMCG business with Robert Roberts Ltd. Prior to taking on the IDA role in April 2016 Niall worked as Business Operations Manager with Unilever Ireland, the world’s largest FMCG company and was responsible for the strategic direction of the Foods Division, brands such as Knorr, Hellmann’s and Flora.
O’Callaghan believes that Limerick punches above its weight when it comes to attracting FDI.
“Ultimately Limerick is a very small city in international standards, and the Mid-West Region with a population of under 400,000 people does not have the critical mass of our competitors”, he tells me.
“For example, there are 146 towns and cities in the UK with a greater population than Limerick. So, it is easy to see how much we actually punch above our weight when it comes to FDI, the world class brands now in this region; Regeneron, J&J, Analog, AXA, GE etc. It just means we at IDA Ireland have to work so much harder to position this region as a viable location”.
O’Callaghan acknowledges the work done behind the scenes by many of the key stakeholders across Limerick.
“With support from our partners and stakeholders such as the educational institutions UL, LIT and LCETB and because of our relative size, we can be more flexible, adaptable and responsive to industry needs which actually helps us stand out in attracting companies to this region”, he notes.
In terms of infrastructure O’Callaghan sees the continued development of quality regional access as key to our continued success.
“The obvious one is the M20 to Cork and the Northern Distributor Route”, he says.
“This will specifically aid future expansions by existing client companies in and around the National Technology Park. However, the single biggest influencing factor to position the Mid-West for future FDI wins is connectivity to London and Europe via Shannon Airport.
O’Callaghan believes that it is the Shannon connectivity that has the potential to be a game changer with the likes of a daily Amsterdam route having the potential to significantly enhance the proposition of the Mid-West as a location for international business looking to enter the European market.
Niall cites the current momentum seen in the Limerick and Mid-West region as something that excites him most as we enter 2017.
“Success breathes success after all”, he notes.
“Once you start to change the perception of a location or city, there tends to be a wave of goodwill and support that follows. And the success of IDA Ireland in attracting investments since the start of our current Regional Strategy (Winning FDI 2015-2019) have played a pivotal role in in delivering that new vision of Limerick and the Mid-West Region”.
When asked about political developments in 2016, particularly Brexit and the Trump election O’Callaghan believes we have yet to fully establish exactly what the current geopolitical landscape will deliver in the form of new policies etc, so sees these developments as still an unknown quantity.
“We must remain focused, however, on what we do have control of: cost competitiveness for companies, talent and skills availability, infrastructure investments. We are confident at IDA Ireland if we remain competitive on theses metrics, and with our unwavering support as a member of the EU and Eurozone, that we will continue to deliver on our regional strategy”, he adds.
Niall stresses the importance of delivering high quality new office accommodation across Limerick over the near future.
“It is a crucial requirement for any potential company looking at a location. The sooner this region can develop new options, the sooner it provides an opportunity to showcase, as part of the overall package and value proposition for the Mid-West”.
With some commentators critical in recent times about the perception that Limerick is trying to be a best friend to every industry, O’Callaghan stresses this as a huge strength.
“In the past we were traditionally over reliant on one of two industries and that is a dangerous position to be in, if there is change in global demands. We are unique in this region, having a breath of sectors represented here, everything from Med Tech to Bio-Pharma, ICT to Content and Consumer Business Services, and Emerging Business to Manufacturing.
What this allows us do is speak to many more prospective clients across our international network, in various sectors. Widening the net also means we are not over dependent on one skill set in the region and it will help retain our talent”.
Niall tells me that almost 70% of all IDA client investments come from existing client companies, something he expects to continue.
“We have a strong tradition for aviation, high end manufacturing and engineering in this region. Coupled with a new wave of FDI in the form of Tech and ICT, there is an opportunity to further develop this cluster within the Mid-West”, he notes.
In his role Niall O’Callaghan spends much of his time with new or existing FDI companies looking to expand in the region. So what excites those companies most about Limerick?
“I would say it is the talent and can do attitude of the workforce that stands out most. It is a core part of why we over index when it comes to FDI in this region, companies are blown away by the quality and work ethic of not only our graduates, but also those with experience hungry for more.
I firmly believe a cohesive and coordinated approach by all stakeholders in the region can only benefit our proposition as a location to do business. The success of Action Plan for Jobs of which IDA Ireland is a key stakeholder, is an example of how bringing regional stakeholders together can deliver – for the region”.
Niall O’Callaghan is a former Irish International athlete and lives in Croagh where he is actively involved in Croagh/Kilfinny GAA Club and the West Limerick Athletics Club.