Chamber President James O'Connor Speech at Cork Business Lunch

  • Release Date: 22/09/2017
James O’Connor at the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland Cork Business Lunch 
Cork - an eco-system of collaboration
Commissioner Hogan, Deputy Lord Mayor John Sheehan, members of the Chamber and our very welcome guests,
On behalf of the Chamber Board I am delighted to welcome you to our Cork Business Lunch.  and to be joined by Board members Catherin Duffy of Northern Trust Limerick and , our Vice President, Mr. Barry O’Sullivan, of Johnson & Johnson Limerick, who is a great support to me as President.  
These are times of both challenge and opportunity for Ireland. We find ourselves on the fault-line of Brexit, bringing with it changing relationships between global trading blocks and the threat of protectionism. After over a year of political talks, it looks like the positions on both sides are now clearer than they have been. But they are long way off from the sufficient progress needed for negotiations to go to the next level. 
For our Chamber members, there are few issues more important than the implications of the UK’s departure from the EU. The Chamber’s Brexit agenda with Government is focused on four major concerns. 
The first one is Maximising the Mobility of our people. Ireland should seek to preserve the benefits of the existing Common Travel Area between the UK and Ireland and seek unhindered access for our clients and staff in transit to and from international airports in each jurisdiction.
Secondly Protecting our Trade Links. We have to maintain the closest possible trading relationship with the UK while ensuring this is based on a level playing field. The imposition of tariffs and barriers in the form of custom checks, differing regulations and so forth will impose addition trading costs on Ireland as a globalised economy - given our high levels of UK trade and the use of the UK as a bridge to the EU mainland for goods in transit.
Our third priority is Investment Competitiveness. An outcome that provides the UK with the benefits of EU market access without the obligations or cost of membership could undermine Ireland’s investment proposition. For example, how would a UK outside the EU industrial relations framework, with direct state-aid or tax incentives for companies and industries affect Ireland’s international competitiveness?
Another example from my day job in Microsoft is the upcoming EU General Data Protection 
Regulation. A recent UK position paper leaves the UK room for manoeuvre on the implementation of future changes and therefore the potential for UK-EU regulatory divergence. 
Lastly, Ireland must now Forge New Alliances: The Chamber encourages the Government to reset its EU engagement strategy taking into account the loss of the UK as a large member state with broadly similar policy mindset to Ireland. We must now find new friends, shared interests and new political linkages among like-minded member states.
We welcome Commissioner Phil Hogan here today to share his thoughts on some of these concerns.
It is the role of the American Chamber to debate, examine and explain what makes Ireland so successful in attracting US business investment: our proximity to high performing markets, our pro-business environment and the certainty of our legislative regime. But the number one factor that stands out time and again is our people.
The world class potential of over 150,000 highly talented innovative people is being realised daily by over 700 US companies that are invested here.
Our people are working at the leading edge, producing the goods and services that are transforming our world today – and imagining and developing the goods, services and ideas that will change our world tomorrow. Cork is home to many of them – there are now over 32,000 people at 150 multinationals with operations here.
One of the questions I hear is ‘How can Ireland continue to remain the global location of choice for US investment? 
Cork is demonstrating what it means to be a world class ecosystem of collaboration with so many world class companies clustered together in one location.
Cork demonstrates what we can achieve when we compete on the world stage – and do so in a way that is uniquely collaborative .
And  like the best global FDI locations, Cork has developed particular clusters of excellence in areas including -  med-tech , pharma, gaming and cyber-security. To give just one example - every day, 1000 specialised knee implants are made in Ringaskiddy. 
In addition to two leading third level institutions – UCC and CIT - Cork also counts among its many successes world class research centres such as the Tyndall Institute, the Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy and IMERC the Irish Maritime and Energy Resource Cluster. These centres of innovation excellence are enabling ground-breaking innovation to happen between the public and private sectors.
And the inward investment picture is also looking just as bright. Landmark investments in the past two years include:
• The €150m investment by GE Healthcare at its biopharmaceutical manufacturing campus at Ringaskiddy . 
• MSD’s Brinny site sharing in a €280million investment leading to the creation of 330 new jobs. 
• BioMarin’s, announcement of  a major expansion of its manufacturing facility.
This coupled with new ventures in Cork by companies such as AlienVault opening its new EMEA Sales and Technical Support Centre in Capitol Building on Washington Street and Stryker’s opening of a global technology development centre at Carrigtwohill shows that the message could not be more clear-  that Cork is a global home for FDI.
All of this is not a coincidence. These wins have been hard-fought because Cork is ambitious. It is a spirit of collective ambition that Ireland needs in a time when the international outlook is as uncertain as it is now.
Ireland’s unique position; at the very centre of the EU-US relationship; soon to be the only English-speaking member of the EU; perfectly positioned in the global time-zone spectrum; with an unbelievably diverse multinational workforce presents us with a game-changing set of opportunities.
We have developed an extraordinary two way business relationship between Ireland and the US – now standing at an all-time high in both directions – with Irish companies creating great jobs in every state of the United States – almost as many jobs as US companies have created here. 
Again this is no coincidence but down to the hard work over many decades by forward thinking government policy and Ireland’s excellent state agencies.  I welcome Taoiseach Varadkar’s recent announcement of the Global Footprint 2025 initiative to double our diplomatic & investment agency capacity in the coming eight years. Our members see every day the great job done by IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland and we welcome the additional resources coming their way. In our advocacy work with Government we make it clear that we also need to invest in the capacity of our country to absorb existing and potential investment.  
We must keep a laser sharp focus on the challenges we face in the race for global inward investment.  The factors that we must continue to get right if Ireland is to remain a great place to live and work and attract FDI  include:
• An education system that equips boys and girls equally to avail of the opportunities that flow from digital transformation in a multilingual global community 
• Enhanced physical and digital infrastructure 
• A personal tax regime that rewards productivity 
• Sufficient choice of quality rented residential accommodation to meet the needs of a changing population 
• Sufficient choice of schools and pathways to education and training attainment 
• And finally – but critically – the need for extensive broadband access across Ireland
On the capacity side, our physical and digital capacity still needs significant improvements if we are to enable further growth. In particular for the South and mid-west region we are advocating for
• The Dunkettle InterChange which all going as expected, will be completed by 2021
• Upgrading the N28 route to Ringaskiddy, an essential piece of infrastructure for our member companies.
• The upgraded M20 Cork-Limerick route which is critical to connect and unlock further economic activity across the South and Mid-West regions between Cork and Limerick
On the talent side, we must ensure the pace of change in the education system reflects the pace we’ve all seen in our working lives. Earlier this week, I was delighted to attend the Chamber’s annual Learning Edge conference at Linkedin’s brand new offices to discuss these issues. We fully support the ambitious recommendations in the Action Plan for Education and we warmly welcome the inclusion of computer science as a Leaving Cert subject from 2018 and the inclusion of coding on the Primary maths curriculum. We know education is the key to accelerating our country’s economic potential.
In particular we must remove all barriers – and create more opportunities  – particularly for  girls to pursue STEM subjects and do everything possible to ensure Science and Technology subjects get the right level of focus at Primary, Secondary and Third Level. And we must integrate the arts into STEM to unlock our true creative potential.
In my day job at Microsoft, I get to travel across the globe. As I mentioned earlier one trait that remains a core strength of our teams in Ireland above all other teams is the ability to work collaboratively. The positive impact of bringing talent, diverse thinking and experiences together to overcome challenges and solve problems is immeasurable.  It is a key strength here in Ireland and something that is going to become even more important as the world focuses increasingly on data analytics and problem solving. 
Big data, Machine Learning; Artificial Intelligence; Robotics; and Augmented Reality are just some of the new emerging technology capabilities which are going to massively disrupt the world we operate in today.  Our vision is an Irish talent pool fit-for-purpose for a data-centric future; a workforce comfortable handling data and complex scenarios, capable of making informed decisions  and able to use enhanced problem-solving skills. 
All of this requires thoughtful consideration and I am confident that Ireland will continue to be rewarded for a uniquely flexible and innovate approach.
I would like to thank you, our members for your continued support in making it happen. I am proud to represent all of you, ensuring that your voice is heard, your contribution is recognised at the highest levels. In concluding I want to warmly thank all the team at Matheson for their very generous support to this event.