Luring Irishmen (& industry) back home

"Uncle Shamus wants youm !" could be the slogan of the latest program to develop industry in Ireland. After decades of watching its people emigate to the United Kingdom and the United States, Ireland is trying to bring some of the more successful native sons and daughters home.

Specifically, Shannon Free Airport Development Company Ltd. is looking for Irish men and women who want to return and start manufacturing businesses in counties Clare, Limerick, and North Tipperary. Its two-year pilot program, which already has helped 250 companies get started, now is focusing its attention overseas.

"We're here to get Irish people to come back to Ireland, not [to get] American investment," says William Moloney of the government agency. "What we're trying to do is bring back people who have come over in the last 50 years, bring them home again -- not to look for a job, but to make jobs."

Ironically, the program was sparked by concern over the great success of a sister agency, Ireland's Industrial Development Agency, in attracting overseas businesses. More than 40 percent of all employment now is in foreign-owned industry, Mr. Moloney says, and the percentage is growing.

"We need it [foreign investment], we want it, and we ourselves look for it, but at the same time the government thinks it's high time we started to give the same kind of concentrated attention to the development of Irish industry. . . ."

He emphasizes the focus on manufacturing, especially small and medium-size businesses.

"We're not looking for someone who wants to come home to start a pub or a hotel. . . . Ideally, we're looking for a guy who's spent a number of years in a manufacturing industry. He has an idea for his own business, a product, a service, whatever, is keen to get out on his own, has what I think you call over here the 'smarts' and the guts to get out and have a go at it. And combined with all that is the one other little ingredient -- wanting to go home to Ireland. They all say they want to go home, but I like to see them on the boat or plane. Celebrating St. Patrick's Day is one thing, but the reality of moving back is something else. . . ."

Though electronics and engineering have been the three counties' prime industries for two decades, he says, almost any industry is welcome.

"We're looking for anything that's broadly in the manufacturing area -- even toy manufacturing and craft industries. . . ." For instance, one of the men who's coming over makes miniature soldiers."

Since the start of the drive, most of the returning Irish have come from the United Kingdom. However, a program last fall in Chicago led to 150 inquiries and 15 definite prospects. Greater New York and Philadelphia are also proving to be fertile ground, and after just a few days in Boston, Mr. Moloney is ecstatic about the response he is getting.

Americans whose parents are Irish are automatically eligible for Irish citizenship, he says, and if one's grandparents are Irish the procedure for getting an Irish passport is also fairly simple.

The homeland appeal is enhanced by the economic incentives being offered. There are cash grants of up to 60 percent of the cost of equipment and machinery; factory units at low rents; grants for training, research, and development; and a lenient tax arrangement on corporation profits. Shannon Development also offers advisory service in finance, marketing, production, industrial relations, and management training. Then, too, there is access to markets on the Continent though Ireland's membership in the European Community.

Mr. Maloney estimates the two-year pilot program has cost the government about $6 million, with an additional $15 million coming from private industry. The full results will not be known until 1981, but he says he's encouraged by what he's already seen.

"The results have been dramatic. There's no doubt about it, they've been very satisfactory. In a two-year period we've gotten 3,000 jobs in an area where the norm every year has been about 150," he says.

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