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Ireland takes an interest in Pittsburgh's tech startup scene

Aaron Aupperlee
| Friday, May 25, 2018, 2:57 p.m.
Silicon Docks, Dublin, Ireland , nickname makes reference to Silicon Valley, and was adopted because of the concentration of European headquarters of high-tech companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and startups in the area. (Photo courtsey of IDA of Ireland)
Silicon Docks, Dublin, Ireland , nickname makes reference to Silicon Valley, and was adopted because of the concentration of European headquarters of high-tech companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and startups in the area. (Photo courtsey of IDA of Ireland)
Emmanuel  Dowdall (Photo courtsey of IDA of Ireland)
Jason Clarke Photography
Emmanuel Dowdall (Photo courtsey of IDA of Ireland)

Ireland, home to international offices for Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and other tech giants, has started courting Pittsburgh's emerging companies.

A top Irish official was in Pittsburgh this week selling the Emerald Isle as a stable, tax-friendly location with access to talent and markets across Europe.

“We'd love to have a chat with you about that,” Emmanuel Dowdall, the head of Ireland's economic develop agency for North America, said during an interview with the Tribune-Review at the start of his visit.

Dowdall wouldn't say which companies he planned to meet with, only that he was interested in robotics, artificial intelligence and biotech. He also said he'd like to explore partnerships between Ireland and the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University.

“I've been so impressed with what's coming out of Carnegie Mellon,” Dowdall said.

Dowdall is the executive president for North America for Ireland's Industrial Development Authority, the federal agency responsible for securing foreign investment.

Dowdall said he wasn't in town to try to lure companies away from Pittsburgh but instead wanted to talk to them about setting up their international headquarters in the country.

More than 700 U.S. companies have offices in Ireland. U.S. companies have invested $387 billion in Ireland and support 20 percent of the country's employment.

Every top pharmaceutical company has an office in Ireland. Most of the top medical technology and software companies do as well.

Google has 7,000 employees there. Microsoft has 2,000. Facebook has 2,500 employees in Ireland. Adobe has nearly 3,000.

Apple has been in Ireland since 1980. The company employs about 6,000 there. This month, Apple announced it would not build a $1 billion data center in Ireland after years of delays in the planning and approval process. The company also reached a settlement last year with the European Union to pay $15.4 billion in back taxes to the Irish government.

Ireland has a 12.5 percent corporate tax rate compared to the 21 percent corporate tax rate in the United States. The country offers a 25 percent tax credit on research and development activities performed on the island.

Corporate tax rates can be deciding factors for companies seeking to expand to other countries. Ireland's is relatively low, with about 20 countries boasting lower corporate tax rates, including a handful of Caribbean Islands that have no corporate tax rates. Dowdall, however, said Ireland is not a tax haven.

The U.S. corporate tax rate is 21 percent, down from 35 percent after the passage of President Trump's tax bill. Dowdall said Trump's tax changes has slowed U.S. investment in Ireland. More than a company a week has announced significant investments in Ireland since, Dowdall said.

Dowdall said Ireland has an open immigration policy, making it easy to bring talent to the country. And as a member of the European Union, Ireland offers access to all of Europe.

Irish government officials can offer help complying with EU regulations, including the new General Data Protection Regulation. And, after Brexit, Ireland is the only English-speaking EU country, Dowdall said.

“We're not saying that you have to come to Ireland, but we'd like to meet you,” Dowdall said.

This was Dowdall's first visit to Pittsburgh. He came because he had heard so much about Pittsburgh's innovations in robotics, artificial intelligence and biotech.

Dowdall said the view of the city from the Fort Pitt Tunnel left an impression on him as did a conversation he had with his taxi driver from the airport.

“I asked if people were proud of Pittsburgh,” Dowdall said.

The answer was yes, Dowdall said, and the reasons why filled the bulk of the taxi ride.

Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at aaupperlee@tribweb.com, 412-336-8448 or via Twitter @tinynotebook.

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