My Department and its agencies consistently engage with businesses throughout the country and across a variety of sectors to ensure an understanding of the existing and potential challenges faced by our businesses. This engagement helps to inform the policies and strategies that will assist our enterprises in overcoming business impediments and to avail of opportunities in domestic and international markets.
My Department, through its agencies, provide a wide range of supports to enable companies to consolidate market share and also to become more competitive and to operate in international markets.
A key strategic priority of Enterprise Ireland has been to increase the diversification of client companies exports into new markets, with two-thirds of exports to go beyond the UK by 2020. This is particularly important in the context of Brexit. The proportion of exports to the UK has reduced by 10% to one-third of exports over the last ten years, reflecting the success Irish companies are having in substantially increasing and broadening their exports to other international markets which has resulted in strong export and employment growth. Exports by EI supported companies have doubled to markets outside the UK since 2008.
EI clients' exports for 2018 rose 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. In relation to employment, as of the end of 2018 a total of 215,207 people are now employed by Enterprise Ireland supported companies. This is the highest in the history of the agency.
My Department continues to promote high level international events including trade missions which support the goal of securing high level market access for Irish companies.
In March 2017, my department launched the Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF). The REDF is a €60m competitive fund complementary to the Regional Enterprise Plans with the overarching aim of driving enterprise development and job creation in each region throughout Ireland. The Fund is administered for my Department by Enterprise Ireland and it is aimed at supporting collaborative and innovative projects that can have a significant impact on enterprise development and help to sustain and add to employment at a national, regional and county level.
During 2017 and 2018, 42 projects have been awarded funding as part of Government initiatives under Project Ireland 2040, over two completed Calls for Proposals worth a total of almost €60m, with collaborative projects supported in every region. Call Three of the Fund closed on 25 September last.
The Local enterprise Offices (LEOs) are the "first stop shop" for advice on starting and growing a business locally. In 2018, 8,007 new jobs (gross) and 3,656 jobs (net) were created by LEO-backed client companies, with jobs growth across every LEO area. At the end of 2018 there were 36,666 people employed by 7,164 small businesses and start-ups that had received financial assistance from the Local Enterprise Offices.
The Government is nevertheless conscious of our need to also continue attracting FDI. IDA Ireland continues to work with their client companies and prospective clients to promote Ireland as an excellent location to do business. FDI companies have a hugely positive effect on the local economy. Direct employment of 229,057 jobs along with indirect employment of a further 183,246 jobs translates to a total of 412,303 jobs supported by FDI in Ireland at the end of 2018.