Ireland is aggressive. It doesn't make any bones about it, either.
That's what struck me the most when I visited Ireland recently, reporting on the elastomer industry on the island nation.
When Ireland didn't have an industrial foundation, it imported manufacturers. When it determined that high-tech product companies presented a better future base, it wooed top businesses, including elastomer goods makers, to its shores. When firms needed to expand, Ireland jumped in to help
It went from being a non-factor in the European manufacturing arena to a hub in about 30 years, the last 10 of which were filled with constant growth. In 1991, the nation had 847 foreign companies; today it has about 1,300.
Many lower-end footwear, automotive and other parts manufacturers have come and gone in Ireland. High-end elastomer product makers have replaced them.
The country could now simply sit back and enjoy the fruits of its labor. Instead, it wants to expand and get more of the action. The nation wants to create more technology and R&D centers—with some earmarked for high-tech elastomer products—to support companies across the land. It plans to work with industry to make those realities.
There is one little rub, however. Ireland is a small country that posts high birth figures and an even higher emmigration rate. Young people are the benefactors of a free education system all the way through college. Many take those degrees and head elsewhere.
The Industrial Development Agency of Ireland estimates the country will need another 350,000 skilled workers within the next few years to fill available jobs. Ireland has a 3.7-percent unemployment rate, and it's unlikely many of those posts will be filled from the present work force.
So Ireland will strive to import people, with a special emphasis on luring back those who emigrated to other lands.
A few words of warning to those who choose to return: Ireland can still be the land of leprechauns when it feels like it, but it wears a high-tech smile these days.
McNulty is Rubber & Plastics News´ senior reporter.