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New minister's Midwest mission

By Irish Echo Staff

The battle to woo new investment into Ireland never ceases and the latest to take up the challenge in the Irish government's newly appointed Enterprise, Trade and Innovation minister, Batt O'Keeffe.

O'Keeffe, accompanied by Industrial Development Authority chief executive Barry O'Leary, recently met with representatives of 15 companies based in the Midwest and that have been identified as being possible candidates for setting up in the Republic for the first time, or expanding existing operations.

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"The companies have been selected on the basis that most of them have in place definite plans to invest outside of the U.S. this year and have identified a number of countries in which to spend," the Irish Examiner reported.

O'Keeffe, O'Leary and their delegation made stopovers in Illinois, Minnesota and Indiana during what was a week-long visit.

As things currently stand, there are over 500 U.S. companies with offshoots in Ireland. Together they employ in excess of 100,000 people.

Interestingly, Irish companies with operations in the U.S. now employ a number of people not very far below that figure.

"Last year, almost half of all IDA-supported companies came from the U.S. and 70 percent of total IDA-supported jobs were directly from U.S. firms," said O'Keeffe, who until the recent cabinet reshuffle had been minister for education.

He added that the visit to U.S. was his first opportunity to meet senior executives in a range of top U.S. multinationals and was an effort to encourage investment opportunities and lay firm foundations to win new foreign direct investment for Ireland.

"A number of companies are already well-established in Ireland and I will be making a strong case to them for further investment, particularly in areas that advance our focus on innovation and the 'smart' economy," said O'Keeffe.

The American visit was part of a new IDA 10-year strategy for so-called "foreign direct investment. Entitled "Horizon 2020," the strategy, launched last month, is aimed at creating 240,000 new jobs by means new investment.

The jobs would be concentrated in sectors such as information communications technology, life sciences and financial services.

The O'Keeffe-led group was concentrating on companies that do business in these areas.

While the U.S. still remains a primary source of FDI jobs in Ireland, the Irish government is also spreading its options.

The Examiner reported that at a recent Dáil Committee hearing, the IDA's O'Leary said that it was hoped that over the next four years at least 20 percent of new "greenfield FDI projects" will be through companies representing the so-called BRIC block of emerging nations, Brazil, Russia, India and China.