THE FIRST THING I knew about 20th century Ireland was that its citizens boxed above their weight. I learned that in 1990 with a raucous group in a German Gasthaus. The Germans were cheering the Irish soccer team in the World Cup. Four years later, I became an accidental resident of Ireland, trained by some savvy creatives, starving artists and green grocers. From 1994 through 2004, I watched success stride past me in the form of energetic, enthusiastic Irish twentysomethings. Few of those people used the word "entitlement." None of them walked around with a beggar's bowl. And yet, it appears to me that senior members of the Irish government think it wise to supplicate themselves at the feet or large companies in hopes of keeping outmoded manufacturing plants ticking over in Ireland. This change of tack surprises me--what happened to the confident Irish swagger?
Fifty miles off my nose, an event planner is trying to find a venue to hold 2000 employees from Dell. They will be told about Dell's business plans. Where it made sense to open and run a manufacturing line in low-cost Ireland last century, it does not make business sense to keep the concern running full bore when lower cost bases exist elsewhere. That's what HP learned a year ago and why their new laptop and deployable technology is competitively priced and feature-laden. Dell needs to catch up with HP and Lenovo because losing market share is not the way you sustain a business. Both HP and Lenovo have well-oiled manufacturing lines in China and India where they pay a good wage and they gain more than 5% higher profit margins per laptop than a similar Dell laptop.
Members of the Irish cabinet have pitched Dell on offsets, inentives and tax relief packages, hoping to keep computer manufacturing in Limerick. Unfortunately, the bean counters evaluate like-for-like and the average Irish wage is more than four times that in China.
I think it's wrong to wave a begging bowl under the eyes of an international company because doing that means you're not focusing on the one quality that makes Ireland a compelling destination--it's young and well-educated work force. Readers know that many Irish graduates might not be able to code in the dark and Google complains that the third level education system fails to produce top-notch engineers, computer scientists and mathematicians. But as we all know, you build a dynamic on the shoulders of diverse skills. Those diverse skills continue to walk off the treadmill of Irish education institutions. Perhaps it's time to rekindle the message of proud and cocky Irish creativity. I saw its radiance a decade ago and think it should not be hidden under a beggar's bowl.
Liam Fay -- "handing round the begging bowls will only hurt Ireland" in the comment section of The Sunday Times, 4 January 2009.
Photo of Dustin, the cockiest Irish I know.
Previously on Inside View -- "Dell shutting Limerick" 4 September 2008 and Dell Shuts Down Limerick", 8 January 2009.