When asked to think of the most technologically advanced nations in the world today, the chances are that all minds wander to the same places. Japan, of course, home to flashing arcades, bleeding-edge consumer products and robots that will surely one day enslave us all. The USA maybe, with Silicon Valley sprawling across northern California, changing our lives with new discoveries on a daily basis. Possibly India, who are making great strides in the digital market and making a real impact on the industry.
The fact is, you’d be surprised. One of the most forward-thinking digital nations is Estonia, home of Skype; in this Baltic nation, computer coding is taught to children as young as 7 and all government business is conducted through an online portal. Another small country carving out an ever-larger slice of the technology pie is none other than Ireland.
Ireland’s economy was defined by the so-called ‘Celtic Tiger’ through the 1990s and 2000s, the comparatively sudden boom in the country’s wealth in the mid-1990s before the housing market crash of 2008 sent it plummeting back down to earth with a thud. In the last few years, however, Ireland has established itself as a genuine technology hub, with successful start-ups rubbing shoulders with established corporate giants such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Amazon, PayPal, eBay and Twitter, who have established bases in the country. Ireland is rapidly becoming the Internet capital of Europe.
The tech industry dragged Ireland from the economic doldrums, and shows no sign of slowing down any time soon. Computer and IT services are a thriving industry, accounting for over 40% of the country’s total exports. Alongside the online entities listed above, computer hardware icons such as IBM, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, MSN and Adobe have bases in the country, alongside software developers Big Fish, EA, Havok, DemonWare, PopCap, Zynga, Riot Games and Jolt. So, what’s the appeal of the Emerald Isle?
A large part is the youthful population. 50% of Ireland citizens are aged 34 or younger, ensuring that many of the residents have fully embraced the digital age. As a result, over 100,000 people and growing are employed within the technology sector, and Ireland is considered to be at the very top of the tree when it comes to skilled labour. Preferable tax rates also help; major companies in Ireland pay just 12.5% in corporation tax. For comparison, a US company will be faced with a 35% bill.
Of course, getting to the top is just half the challenge; Ireland now faces the challenge of retaining its position at the forefront of the tech industry. Key to this will be keeping the enviable talent pool within the country, as this is one of the main reasons businesses choose to invest in Ireland, in addition to bringing in external employees from other nations. This will be met with some resistance, as unemployment remains rife outside of the booming tech industry, but continuing to feed the beast will surely aid the country in the longer term. Fortunately, a certain vote in the UK will help with that.
Yep, Brexit rears its head once more. A number of major businesses from all kinds of industries – including technology – have been a little panicked by the UK’s decision to leave the EU, and with that, possibly drastically reduce business opportunities. Neighbouring Ireland is still based in the EU, and as a result, has been attracting all kinds of attention from major corporations interesting in basing themselves in a English speaking country that will still enjoy free trade with the rest of Europe.
Ireland’s tech industry continues to thrive, despite blows like losing the Web Summit conference (relocated to the warmer climes of Lisbon, another recently forged European tech powerhouse). If start-up companies maintain their record of success in the Silicon Docks – the nickname of Dublin’s Grand Canal Dock, home to an intense concentration of digital companies – expect this small island to continue defying its size and become a major player within the world economy.