Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — While March 17 is the day set aside to honor the passing of Saint Patrick and to celebrate all things Irish, hundreds of U.S. companies, and over a dozen Utah brands, are embracing the country on a full-time basis and building prosperity there with co-headquarters and satellite office operations.
Ireland has found deep success in courting interest and investment from U.S. companies thanks to its low taxes, highly skilled workforce, economic and political stability, and excellent location for accessing European markets and consumers. And, aside from the occasional brogue encounter, no language barriers to navigate.
Ivan Houlihan oversees work in the western U.S. for Ireland's Investment and Development Agency, IDA Ireland for short, and said his country is the ideal location for any company looking to stretch its operations into the European marketplace.
"Let's face it, if you're in Utah and you need to reach customers internationally, support customers internationally, you're going to need a presence outside of the U.S.," Houlihan said. "And that's where Ireland comes in."
IDA reports over 890 U.S. companies have operations in Ireland including most of the stalwarts of the tech world. Microsoft, Intel and Apple have had operations in Ireland for over 20 years and others, including Google, Facebook/Meta, Amazon and Salesforce, have been there over a decade.
Utah has its own bevy of business heavy-hitters with Irish operations including Qualtrics, Ancestry.com, Merit Medical, Overstock.com and others.
Overstock CEO Jonathan Johnson said his company launched its first office in Ireland in 2013 and made a $1 million investment in an expanded facility in 2019 that helped accommodate a growing staff.
"Our Irish team has been instrumental in many of our technology innovations over the years including advancements in machine learning, augmented reality and even blockchain applications," Johnson said. "We've had an office there for 10 years and currently have about 75 employees working in Sligo. It's a team that really complements our Utah staff."
Johnson also noted that his Irish staffers have helped evolve the broader culture at Overstock, including making contributions to understanding the best path to life/work balance from their location in Sligo, on Ireland's northwest coast and part of the country's scenic Wild Atlantic Way.
Houlihan said that while Ireland's 12.5% tax rate on business revenues up to $750 million is a powerful attractor, there are broader and deeper business resources and support mechanisms that help keep companies there once they arrive. And many, like Overstock, expand their presences after they realize the benefits.
"We're a very vocal and strong member of the European Union, coming up on 50 years of membership," Houlihan said. "We have a very pro-business environment and maintain very good engagement at a political level with investors in Ireland. The Irish government is very keen to listen to companies that have invested in the country and respond to them."
Houlihan said one of the major driving forces for U.S. companies that set up shop in Ireland is access to talent, and particularly so for companies with specialized needs like tech firms, pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers. While the Irish government has thrown its support behind the universities and schools that are growing its homegrown talent pool, Houlihan noted the country's immigration rules make it easy for companies based there to access labor needs across the European Union.
"If you're an EU resident, you don't need a visa or work permit to work in Ireland," Houlihan said. "There is free movement. And the free flow of knowledge and talent."
Johnson said Overstock's experience in recruiting top tech talent for its Ireland operations jibes well with Houlihan's assessment.
"Almost all of our employees there are Irish," Johnson said. "We've been able to fill positions there, including senior roles in highly technical areas, quite easily. It's a very talented workforce."
Ireland's geographic location reflects the role it wants to play as a go-between for U.S. businesses looking for better connections and access to the EU's 550 million customers and 250 million workers. The U.S. conducts over $1 trillion in trade with EU countries every year and over $250 billion annually with Ireland alone.
Stephen LeFevre, director of strategic and foreign affairs at World Trade Center Utah, said Ireland has outperformed many of its EU member nations when it comes to proactively recruiting, and supporting, U.S. businesses interested in operating there.
"Ireland has been very good at telling their story," LeFevre said. "They're business friendly and they do everything they can to make it easy to set up operations there."
LeFevre said he's heard positive reviews from Utah companies that have found success in Ireland and the country has "built some very impressive Utah business connections."
And it's a success arc that's continuing to grow.
Last year, 167 U.S. companies expanded into Ireland including Utah companies Market Star and Biomerics. South Jordan-based medical device maker Merit Medical opened an Irish manufacturing facility in 1993 with 22 employees and has since expanded to over 1,000 workers.
Qualtrics, which was recently acquired in a $12.5 billion deal by Silicon Valley venture capital firm Silver Lake, launched its Dublin office in 2013 with six employees and recently reported it was on track to employ over 600 there by 2024.
After announcing an expansion of the company's Ireland-based staff in 2018, Qualtrics founder Ryan Smith said there was something he found very familiar about the Irish capital.
"Dublin felt like Provo to us," Smith said. "There is more of a scrappy culture."
Houlihan said Ireland's value proposition remains vibrant for any company interested in expanding its footprint and leveling up its prospects and offered an open invitation to Beehive State operators to check it out for themselves.
"We're a partner for your international success," Houlihan said. "And we'd love to talk to more Utah companies about how they can become more successful."