Is it the old estate agent maxim alone that determines where a business decides to set up? DAVID STEWART calls on a bunch of companies in different business parks in disparate parts of the country to get the insight on a crucial decision
Birr Technology Centre
Officially opened this month, Birr Technology Centre is one of the country’s newest technology centres. The 23,000sq ft centre is built on the site of an abandoned mill and was restored from ruins by Shannon Development over a two-year period.
Tribox Technology is typical of the type of companies Shannon Development is attracting to the new centre. “We partner with our clients, typically companies or industries with an idea for an electronic product,” explains Niall Cahir, managing director and company founder. “We take their initial concept and work with them to bring it through prototype, beta test, pre-production and production stages.”
Cahir founded Tribox Technology 18 months ago after 12 years of working with such industry leaders as McDonnell Douglas Information Systems, Multipage and Abacus (formerly Polar Electronics).
Cahir chose the Birr Technology Centre in part because of its convenience. “I’ve always based myself in Roscrea and Tipperary,” he says. “It’s quite convenient. I can be at any client’s office in a maximum of two to three hours. It’s also quite comfortable. I don’t have the trauma of Dublin traffic. Also the infrastructure around Birr is upgraded and updated on a regular basis.”
Cahir is quite pleased with the product the centre offers his company. “We have our office and our rent entitles us to a share of the services, which immediately gives us a staffed reception, conferencing facilities with futuristic high-tech networking services so you can give quite impressive presentations, as well as the obvious facilities that go with such centres, such as a common refreshment area. This gives an opportunity to mingle and be part of a larger group.”
The centre is also wired for gigabit Ethernet and offers broadband internet access. “It’s the sort of thing a smaller company cannot initially outlay,” says Cahir.
Tipperary Town Technology Park
Allied Aquatech is a water treatment company that supplies services to industrial and domestic clients. Its main business is installing water coolers supplied not from a four-gallon bottle but from the mains supply, but which nonetheless produce high-quality chilled water. According to Allied Aquatech CEO Pat Dawson, such machines allow business to reduce their drinking water costs by 75 to 80pc. The company’s other businesses include water treatment for hospitals and large business premises and sterilising pipework and supply lines.
The company currently occupies about 260 offices in the Tipperary Town Technology Park where 10 employees are based. The park is owned and managed by Tipperary Technology Park Ltd, a private company owned by the town.
“We chose the Tipperary Town Technology Park because it is very central for servicing the south of the country,” says Dawson. “We can be in Dublin an hour quicker than from Limerick and anywhere in the south of Ireland in 70 minutes. And to be quite frank, the space is competitive at €18 per square foot.”
Dawson describes the facilities available as excellent. The rental, he says, includes heating and access to broadband telecommunications. His company shares canteen space, toilets, shower facilities and meeting rooms. The broadband access was particularly attractive, he says.
“It means we can develop the IT side of the business,” he says. “We can now actively go down the road of developing e-business, which we feel is a huge benefit. There are products we have that we could never sell to domestic and light industrial clients without a good website.”
Kerry Technology Park
Located in Dromtacker, just outside Tralee on the Listowel road, the Kerry Technology Park occupies 113 acres, 50 of which have been designated for enterprise development — including fully serviced industrial sites, a business incubation centre and manufacturing and office-style accommodation — while the remaining 60 are occupied by the new campus of the Institute of Technology, Tralee (ITT).
Webcomponent Trading is one of 18 companies present in the park. Though its CEO, Alan Scroope, is a resident of Killarney, he chose to locate in the Kerry Technology Park for a number of reasons. For a start, he says, there was the open approach of the Shannon Development Centre. Not only was it easy to deal with but also it was supportive of his business plan.
But the clincher was the range of facilities on offer. “First and foremost was the continuous internet connection through a 2MB leased line. We offer online services that empower computer manufacturing companies to buy and sell more effectively over the web so we need to be online 24/7 with an always-on connection. There is no way I would pay €30,000 or so for a leased line. Secondly, the look and feel of the building is very much in keeping with the clients we are dealing with. I have had clients fly into Kerry Airport and are amazed by the facilities,” Scroope says.
These include a fully equipped conference room with videoconferencing facilities, which Scroope describes as second to none.
The presence of the ITT is also a point in the park’s favour. “There is a push to integrate with the institute,” he says. “Its whole curriculum is based around computers and business, which creates good synergy. A forum has now been established that allows us and the other companies present to have an influence on the curriculum, which is quite good.”
The park also provides room for expansion and Scroope points out that when companies outgrow their present accommodation they have the option to build their own units on the site.
East Point Business Park
Located on the eastern side of Dublin City, close to the historic suburb of Clontarf, Eastpoint business park hosts some of the top names in the ICT sector. One of those is Sun Microsystems whose Software Development Centre has been located there since 1995.
“When we originally set up in 1993 we were in Percy Place [in the city centre]. We moved from there to East Point in 1995,” says Ann Fitzpatrick, director of the centre. According to he, employee retention was a major element in choosing the new location.
“We chose East Point at the time because it provided good access in terms of public transport. Although the Clontarf Road Dart station was not open it was well in plan and that was a key component of our decision. We also looked at our employees and where they were living.”
At the time, the Sun Software Development Centre employed 75 people. However, expansion was inevitable. “When we moved in we were in the first phase of East Point. We saw that there would be opportunity to expand and acquire new buildings, which we did.” The centre now employs about 250 people — just over three times the original number — and in addition to retaining the original building, it has acquired a second nearby premises. Security was also a major concern given that the nature of the business means that employees often work late hours. Fitzpatrick describes the round-the-clock security as ‘excellent’.
Fitzpatrick is also very pleased with the way the centre has developed since Sun moved in to what was essentially a building site at the time. “I think the facilities have improved. We now have the Dart and there are regular shuttle buses that bring employees to and from the station; there is an on-site shop, two coffee shops, a restaurant, a bank and recently opened on-site childcare. They’ve also done a fabulous job landscaping the park and it is quite a pleasant place to walk around during lunch.
Parkmore Business Park
The Galway region is gaining reputation as a centre of excellence in the medical device sector, and Parkmore Business Park on the western side of the city has become a magnet for such companies. One of those companies is Caradyne, a home-grown manufacturer of respiratory therapy equipment. Employing 24 people, Caradyne exports globally and has been selected by Deloitte and Touche as one of the 50 fastest growing technology companies in Ireland. Founder John O’Dea was nominated as Entrepreneur of the Year in 2002.
“When we started in 1998, there was paucity of factory space in Galway and it was extremely difficult to find space, so that’s how we ended up here,” he recalls.
The company has since moved into larger premises in the same park. “We have 14,000sq ft of manufacturing and office space built for a medical device company. When we moved into the new premises everything was wired and hubbed up, we just plugged in the server and we were up and running within half a day,” he recalls.
So why did he decide to stay in Parkmore? “It is one of the premium medical parks in Ireland with a cluster of medical companies nearby,” he says. “Our neighbours would include Medtronic, for instance. It’s nice when you bring in visitors from abroad and they see the multinational names as your neighbours.
“But the main reason we chose to locate here is the quality of the park. There are excellent new roads being built around it that will enhance entry and exit, while Galway Airport is only a five-minute drive away,” he adds.
The one problem he does have is the lack of broadband communications: “Parkmore is the second largest industrial estate in Galway and I’m told that Eircom cannot supply a DSL [digital subscriber line] service.” The company uses ISDN to exchange large computer aided design files with its industrial designers, but O’Dea would still prefer an always-on connection.
Park West Business Park
Park West, located just inside the M50 near the Naas Road, is one of the country’s fastest growing business parks. Its tenants range from small indigenous software companies to major multinationals. Intrum Justitia is a Swedish company that provides managed financial services to companies. These can range from managing a company’s sales ledger to handling billing, credit control, collection of overdue payments and debt purchase. The company has been in Ireland since 1999, when it employed four people, and moved to its present location last October.
“We looked at all of the business parks surrounding Dublin,” recalls Nick Biggam, managing director of Intrum Justitia Ireland. “Park West offered a good balance of affordability without being too far from the centre. There were key members of staff we might have lost if we had moved too far out. On top of that we needed to make sure there were facilities and infrastructure being put in place. Not everything we need is in the area at the moment, but they are coming.”
The main thing the company was looking for, according to Biggam, was a public transport link as Intrum Justitia works a shift system. The site is well served by buses including new routes from Lucan and private operators that serve the city centre. In addition there is a nearby rail station at Cherry Orchard and when the Luas light rail service is completed there will be a stop nearby.
Other on-site facilities include a gym, a creche, shops and cafes, many of which, says Biggam, have only opened in the last six months. The presence of these facilities, he believes, is essential as he finds it harder to recruit and retain staff the further out from the centre one goes.
West Cork Technology Park
Located just outside Clonakilty and only a 40-minute drive from Cork City, West Cork Technology Park is a 300,000sq ft facility hosting a variety of technology-based companies. One such company is Premiere Conferencing, a US firm specialising in teleconferencing and collaboration services, which has established its Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) headquarters there.
“We set up in April 2002 but we started working with the IDA towards the end of 2000,” says Michele Hayden, managing director of Premiere Conferencing EMEA. According to Hayden, the company chose West Cork Technology Park after an exhaustive examination of facilities around Ireland with the help of the IDA.
“The facilities here are completely open,” she says. “We needed a large building with an open area that we could build to our specifications. Also the park had good telephone and fibre rings. And Clonakilty is obviously a beautiful area. That was very appealing.”
Another key factor was the availability of a talented workforce. As a European operation, Premiere Conferencing required language skills, primarily in French and German but also in Italian. Hayden pays tribute to South Western Services, one of the promoters of the park, who, she says, was very proactive in helping her find the people she needed.
The location was also good for attracting people. “So many people in west Cork have to travel to Cork City for their jobs,” she says. “But Clonakilty is a good mid-point for people living in the region.”
Her current pet project, in co-operation with the park’s other tenants, is trying to get a bus stop at the park. “We are right here on the main road and buses go past all day but they don’t stop, which is an inconvenience for employees without their own cars. We try to find lifts for people, but it would be so much easier,” she explains.
By David Stewart
At the official opening of the centre (from left) Tomas O Domhnaill, regional manager South Offaly and North Tipperary, Tanaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Mary Harney TD and Liam McElligott, chairman of Shannon Development