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Column Calling time on multinational imperialism

With employment figures finally on the up and job announcements by the likes of Microsoft making the headlines, it is time to start cheerleading our thriving start-up sector, writes Paul Allen.

FOR CENTURIES THE Irish have been subservient to various masters. First it was the British, then the Catholic Church. And even our short-lived economic boom was partly down to the economic imperialism of foreign multinationals.

Historically, we have failed to thrive in our own right. From handout to bailout, we have always looked for shelter from the reality that Ireland has, for most of its existence, been an economic basket case.

The fact is we have failed to develop a thriving homegrown entrepreneurial environment. In Ireland success in often treated with suspicion and failure with contempt.

Comparing the reactions to U2’s success in America verses Ireland, Bono once said that in America people look up at the big mansion you have built on the hill and say, “One day I am going to buy that mansion.” With a wry smile he then said in Ireland people would look up at that big mansion and say “One day… I am going to get that bastard.”

Appetite for begrudgery

Not surprisingly, our appetitive as a nation for begrudgery doesn’t quite go hand-in-hand with entrepreneurship. However, as we slowly emerge from the ravages of recession a monumental shift is taking place.

Employment is up 58,000 over the past 12 months, according to figures just released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO). This equates to a 3.2 per cent rise. This is yet another sign Ireland is emerging from one of its darkest economic eras. But when welcoming new jobs it is important to understand that not all jobs are created equally, when it comes to the sustainability of our future growth.

So while the fact Microsoft is set to hire an additional 95 staff to add to its massive workforce of 1,900 should be warmly welcomed, there are far more significant job announcements in impact if not in numbers.

Homegrown enterprises are our lifeblood – or should be

Brandtone, the Dublin-based mobile marketing company, is set to recruit 29 employees after announcing an investment of more than €2m in a research and development programme. Meanwhile, FCS Global, a telecoms firm located in Roscommon, announced it is expanding its operations in the US and is to hire 10 people. These are both homegrown enterprises that are competing in the global marketplace.

It is announcements like these that are the lifeblood of the future of the Irish economy. Not those of Microsoft or other multinationals adding to their already impressive presence here.

Ireland has historically had difficulty in creating homegrown entrepreneurs. But the success of Brandtone and FCS Global point to a healthy start-up scene that is finally taking root.

And while Ireland’s start-up scene is attracting increasing plaudits, few would have expected the Wall Street Journal to place Ireland at the top of the list when it comes to tech entrepreneurs.

The report found that Ireland attracts four times as much venture capital funding for tech start-up companies than the European average.

The spillover effect?

For many years we were promised that the strategy of attracting large multinationals would have a spillover effect. And, according to the Wall Street Journal, it seems this promise has arrived.

They attribute the vibrant start-up scene not only to Ireland’s favourable corporate tax rate and educated workforce, but also thanks to the presence of tech giants such as Facebook and Twitter.

However, there is still an incredible amount to do if such start-ups are going to continue not only to develop but blossom into major enterprises in their own right.

At present, Irish companies account for a mere 10 per cent of the economy’s exports. In fact, without the multinational sector, the Irish economy would have one of the worst export trades in the developed world.

Start-up eco-system should be nurtured

It makes sense for multinationals to locate here at present. It also made sense at one time for the Fruit of the Loom to make t-shirts in Donegal. But the global economy is constantly in flux and things change.

So rather than cheerlead announcements by the likes of Microsoft, it is the emerging start-up eco-system and the jobs it is creating that we should nurture and cherish. Because when it comes to our economic success and wellbeing the best way to predict the future is to create our own.

Paul Allen is managing director of Paul Allen and Associates PR,

Ireland named Europe’s most entrepreneurial country>

Irish SMEs are among the most reliant on banks in Europe>

From idea to reality: the story of a young Irish start-up>

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