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A Tale Of Two Regions; Northern Ireland: The ‘Austin, Texas Of Europe’

Belfast Skyline
With promising cost advantages and a wealth of talent resources, Northern Ireland has emerged as a leader in tech.

Cowboys and barbeque. A Stanford graduate told a news outlet in 2018 that was the first thing that came to mind when his Silicon Valley tech company asked him to transfer to Austin, Texas.

But reliable infrastructure, access to innovation and research, lower operating costs, tax advantages and local government support to attract and develop a skilled workforce are consistently cited factors that have contributed to the city’s rise over the last few decades, its establishment as a world-class tech hub and a popular secondary campus location for some of the world’s most innovative companies.

Some 4,500 miles away, you may be hard-pressed to find a cowboy. But employing a similar tried-and-true business-friendly formula, along with a unique post-Brexit value proposition, Northern Ireland has undergone a similar-type transformation into a favored hub for expansion into GB and European markets.

The region has emerged as a leader in tech—from fintech to cyber security and software development. Other key industries are surging—advanced manufacturing and engineering, life and health sciences, financial and professional services, to name a few. Belfast and the broader region continuously land at or near the top of key annual foreign direct investment (FDI) rankings across many of these sectors.

Taxes, Operating Costs and the Broader Equation

When the U.S. passed laws in 2017 aimed at disrupting overseas tax havens, it changed the equation for businesses looking to expand overseas.  

While its corporate tax rate of 25 percent is the lowest tax burden of all G7 countries, the region’s other unique advantages have driven an increase in direct investment by U.S. companies. 

Of 1,200 international businesses set up in Northern Ireland, nearly 20 percent are U.S.-owned. But since 2020, American businesses are responsible for nearly 40 percent of FDI projects in Northern Ireland.

A Young, Educated and Skilled Workforce

Students in Northern Ireland consistently outperform other UK regions on standardized testing and high school completion rates, with 78 percent going onto further and higher education.

The region boasts an extensive network of further education colleges provides excellent academic and vocational training and an accessible research hub for investors, including two globally recognized universities—Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University. 

Universities and further education colleges work closely with businesses to ensure students develop relevant skills and qualifications. The fully funded Assured Skills Programme provides pre-employment training built on a flexible Academy Model and has been used to help companies recruit new staff in areas such as software development, data analytics, cyber security, applied intelligence, legal services and financial services. Companies looking to expand across borders won’t find anything in Europe like it.

The region’s highly skilled talent pool is also among Europe’s youngest and fastest growing populations, attracted in part by inexpensive housing and the relative low cost of living. Much of this translated into affordable wages and significant cost efficiencies for businesses.

A Land Without Tariffs
The Peace Bridge
The Peace Bridge in Derry, Ireland. c/o Invest Northern Ireland

Manufacturing sectors account for 11 percent of employment and over 15 percent of Northern Ireland’s total output.

The post Brexit deal between the UK and the EU is the ‘Windsor Framework’ which offers businesses located in the region a significant and unique competitive edge, as it has established Northern Ireland as the only region in the world with tariff-free access to both the GB and EU markets.

Whether looking to service both the GB and EU markets, recalibrate supply chains or design, develop and sell products across key industries, advantages under the Framework promise cost efficiencies where manufacturing and sale of goods are part of the equation.

Support for US Businesses

Invest Northern Ireland is the regional economic development agency for Northern Ireland.

Teams located in New York, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco offer end-to-end support for new and existing investors.

From initial fact-finding, bespoke discovery visits, property and talent sourcing, business and sector network introductions through to tailored packages of financial assistance, Invest NI’s team of investment professionals both in the U.S. and Northern Ireland are with its investors every step of the way.


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