Q&A with Ivan Houlihan, Senior Vice President and Head of the USA West Coast for IDA Ireland

Q&A with Ivan Houlihan, Senior Vice President and Head of the USA West Coast for IDA Ireland

With Saint Patrick’s Day on the horizon, Ivan Houlihan provides insights on why a growing number of San Francisco Bay Area companies are deciding to expand their operations to Ireland. IDA Ireland, the country’s national investment development agency, collaborates globally with companies to offer financial support, on-the-ground assistance, and advice for establishing and scaling their operations in Ireland. Based in the Bay Area in California, Houlihan engages closely with sectors such as technology, financial services, life sciences, and engineering across the Western United States and Mexico.

Q: What is IDA Ireland and how is it involved in the business sector of the greater San Francisco Bay Area?

A:  IDA Ireland serves as the Irish Government’s investment and development agency, tasked with attracting foreign companies to establish a presence in Ireland. Celebrating our 75th anniversary, we have been instrumental in partnering with 290 West Coast U.S. companies (972 US companies in total) including leading firms like Intel, Apple, eBay, Salesforce, and Stripe. We provide comprehensive support for these companies to set up offices, development centers, manufacturing plants, and other facilities, assisting them in location selection, staffing, European funding access, and building connections with partners, researchers, and academia.

Intel’s history in Ireland exemplifies the collaborative approach between IDA Ireland and Silicon Valley leaders. Having opened its first Irish facility in the late ’80s, Intel has invested more than €30 billion in its fabs and other locations in Ireland with the assistance of IDA Ireland. Most recently, Intel announced the initiation of high-volume production at a new, advanced €17 billion fab in Leixlip, Ireland, targeting the AI sector, advanced mobile networks, and autonomous driving. Intel’s investments in Ireland, together with its existing and planned investments in Germany and Poland, establish a unique, end-to-end, leading-edge semiconductor manufacturing value chain in Europe. These investments act as a catalyst for further ecosystem investments and innovations throughout the European Union.

Q: Why is it timely as we approach the Saint Patrick’s Day weekend to consider Ireland’s involvement in the tech sector of California companies?

A: Saint Patrick’s Day offers more than cultural celebrations; it presents a prime opportunity for Silicon Valley companies to explore the strategic advantages of establishing a presence in Ireland. Over the years, IDA Ireland has nurtured a robust ecosystem for tech firms, encompassing software, hardware, and services in diverse markets. Key benefits include access to the EU’s substantial market, ease of doing business, political stability, a vibrant R&D ecosystem, and a transparent tax regime. Additionally, Ireland’s status as the EU’s sole English-speaking country, combined with its young, highly educated workforce, positions it as a uniquely attractive location for business expansion.

Q: What advantages do local companies get by working with IDA Ireland and operating there?

A: At this juncture in history—having collaborated with Silicon Valley throughout much of its existence—IDA Ireland possesses decades of connections and expertise that are invaluable for assisting both established tech giants and rapidly growing startups seeking geographic expansion to enhance their revenues. Since the inception of Silicon Valley, encompassing areas such as electronic instruments (with companies like Hewlett Packard based in Ireland) and semiconductors (Intel has operated in Ireland since 1989), to the current tech-driven sectors including enterprise software, medtech, pharmaceuticals, financial services, and now AI, many of these industries connected with Ireland. They benefit from its skilled workforce and broader market opportunities.

Given the extensive history of American technology companies in Ireland, a significant number of top U.S. companies  (8 of the top 10 US software companies) have established operations in Ireland. This presence ensures that companies can depend on a network of suppliers, partners, and investors conducive to their success. Another key advantage is Ireland’s economy, which has consistently been among the strongest in Europe, attracting skilled workers and investment.

Moreover, the cultural ties between America and Ireland, which span many generations, enhance Ireland’s appeal. Today, approximately 9.5% of Americans have Irish ancestry, contributing to Ireland’s reputation as a trusted and familiar location, both generally and in the business world. A particularly compelling aspect is that establishing a presence in Ireland offers access to resources, a track record, and talents that may not be as readily available in other European countries.

Q: Are companies in significant new sectors like cybersecurity and generative AI locating in Ireland?

A:  In a word: yes. As cybersecurity has become a global priority, Ireland’s tech sector has remained at the forefront. Currently, Ireland is home to over 7,300 cyber security professionals working for more than 500 companies, a significant number of which have U.S. headquarters. A pivotal element driving this cyber security sector in Ireland is an effective public-private partnership approach, through which Ireland has invested in a comprehensive cyber initiative Cyber Ireland. This initiative aims to attract new talent to the cybersecurity field and equip them with industry-relevant skills. The collaboration between industry and academia functions seamlessly, with the industry outlining its needs, academic institutions developing curricula, and government-funded organizations implementing training programs that offer micro-credentials to enhance the pool of skilled workers. Subsequently, these graduates often find employment with tech firms, many of which are American.

Regarding the burgeoning generative AI sector, Ireland benefits from a wide array of trained talent, numerous well-funded research institutions, and a strong tradition of cooperation among companies, academia, and the government. A notable recent development is the establishment of OpenAI’s European headquarters in Dublin, a testament to Ireland’s attractiveness in the tech landscape.

Q: What would you like people to know about Ireland?

A: I want San Francisco Bay Area business leaders to recognize Ireland as the vibrant heart of Europe. We are a staunchly pro-European nation with an economy that has consistently led the region, making Ireland an invaluable asset for companies looking to expand into overseas markets. Not only do we speak English and boast a well-educated population, but we also pride ourselves on the diversity of our workforce and the breadth of our talent and capabilities. Since the early 1990s, Ireland has evolved into a multicultural nation with a dynamic environment. We are committed to continuing our investment in making Ireland a significant resource for California companies seeking to access the European market.