The Government has a new plan - Future Jobs Ireland - to ensure we are preparing now for the jobs of the future. While the economy is performing well with strong employment and unemployment down to 4.8% in October this year, we cannot be complacent. In the past we took success for granted and failed to prepare for emerging challenges, trends and opportunities.
Future Jobs Ireland includes ambitious targets and actions to drive this transformation of our economy. These include funds, policies and initiatives that will enhance productivity, especially among SMEs; promote indigenous entrepreneurship, especially in the regions, encourage clustering and stronger links between domestic and foreign owned firms, and, assist businesses to move up the value chain, to protect jobs and to build resilience for the future.
The long-term response to Brexit is for companies across all sectors to become more competitive, more innovative and to diversify their export footprint into more international markets. The agencies under my Department have a wide range of supports available to enable companies to consolidate market share within the UK, and also to become more resilient by broadening their sales to other international markets.
Enterprise Ireland’s results for 2018 show the progress that the Agency have been making in supporting and driving the creation of new enterprises in the indigenous sector at a national and regional level. Client companies assisted by Enterprise Ireland (EI) created 18,896 jobs in 2018 and 64% of the jobs created were outside Dublin, with all regions recording increases in employment. There were 217,186 people employed by Enterprise Ireland supported companies in 2018, the highest total employment in the history of the agency. Exports also reached a new record high of €23.8 billion in 2018. Importantly, these EI client firms have extensive links to their local economies around the country and EI client purchases of raw material and services and wages to direct employees exceeded €27 billion in 2018.
Enterprise Ireland clients' exports continued to rise for a ninth consecutive year and now stand at €23.8 billion, the highest level in the history of the State. This represents a 6% increase on 2017, and a €10.9 billion increase in exports since 2009.
During 2018, EI progressed with its strategic ambition to expand the Irish export footprint, by growing exports beyond the UK, while consolidating and building upon hard-won UK market positions. The 2018 export figures confirm that EIs clients are exporting more than ever before, to more diversified markets than ever before. Importantly, 417 companies established new overseas presences in 2018.
In the UK, which is and will remain, EI clients' largest market, exports remained strong and increased by 4%, despite the prevailing challenges of volatility and uncertainty. EI progressed with their ambition to reduce overall UK market exposure to one-third by 2020. During 2018 EI achieved a further one per cent reduction in UK market exposure, reducing it to 33%, down more than 10% over the years, reflecting the success Irish companies are having in substantially increasing and broadening their exports to other international markets.
The Eurozone region, which is a key focus of Enterprise Ireland's diversification strategy, saw growth of 7.6% to €4.8bn, with Germany, France and the Netherlands each exceeding €1bn in exports.
I officially opened Enterprise Ireland’s new office in Munich last week, which is their second office in Germany. It is one of seven new offices that the Government is funding in key markets worldwide, as part of our overseas strategy, Global Ireland 2025, which aims to double our international impact. Market diversification has never been more important than it is now with Brexit on the horizon.
Enterprise Ireland’s focus is to assist client companies to build on the strength of their 2018 performance by supporting them to start, innovate, be competitive and to diversify their global footprint. In delivering on this, new supports have been introduced, others streamlined, a Global Ambition campaign launched and an intensive programme initiated to support companies to take action and plan for Brexit so that they have the resilience necessary to navigate the challenges and opportunities posed by any kind of Brexit.
Enterprise Ireland has a broad range of supports to help companies prepare for Brexit including the Brexit Scorecard, Be Prepared Grant, Advisory Clinics, Agile Innovation Fund, Operational Excellence Offer and Market Discovery Fund. Recently launched EI supports including online Customs Training and Act On Consultancy. In addition, the Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) recently launched their customs training offering which is available to all companies. Furthermore, the suite of enterprise supports in place cover a range of potential Brexit impacts. These range from liquidity support through short term and longer term loans, to restructuring aid for businesses in severe operating difficulties, including an EU State aid approved Rescue and Restructure Scheme to deal with sudden shocks and an expanded network of overseas offices and in-market supports to help firms diversify markets and to consolidate market share in the UK where appropriate.
The 31 Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) are located throughout the country and provide a range of supports for the micro and small business sector. The LEOs act as the “first-stop-shop” for providing advice and guidance, financial assistance and other supports to those wishing to start or grow their own business. The Government agreed to increase funding for the LEOs by 22% in 2019 and this increase is being used to assist micro-enterprises in becoming more competitive and to build resilience against Brexit.
To drive awareness of the importance of preparing for Brexit, a number of regional advisory clinics have been held by Enterprise Ireland and the LEOs around the country.
It is also vital that businesses themselves prepare for Brexit impacts and take actions to mitigate against any adverse effects. Firms that do business with the UK, whether buying goods or exporting products, should in particular, examine their supply chains to determine their vulnerabilities and take appropriate action.