International Leadership Mission 2019: Dublin, Ireland

By: Alicia Teel Posted: 06/21/2019

Delegation gets new insight into stewarding our reputation, growing inclusively, and long-term thinking


Delegation in front of Malahide Castle. Photo by Alabastro Photography.

In May 2019, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Greater Seattle Partners led a delegation of over 40 regional business and civic leaders to Dublin, Ireland.

The greater Dublin area accounts for 28% of Irish population, 45% of Irish employment, and 50% of its output, making it influential in the development of Ireland's enterprise and economic policy. Dublin offered an excellent benchmark for our region's efforts on issues such as economic development, transportation, housing, workforce development, and more. A city poised for growth and success on the world stage for years to come, Dublin is also seeing major population growth. By 2040, an additional one million people will be in Ireland, a figure similar to growth projections for our own region. Over the course of seven days, our delegation explored how Dublin approaches familiar issues.

Affordability and inclusion in a time of tremendous growth

Delegates at the “Inclusivity for a Fast-Growing Economy” discussion at Dublin City Hall. Photo by Alabastro Photography.

Sessions such as a panel with arts leaders, a conversation with Lord Mayor of Dublin Nial Ring, and multiple discussions on inclusive growth gave the delegation insight into how our Irish counterparts think about how to keep people from being left behind. For example, Dublin has a capital plan for housing and public transportation, and has created social housing to increase housing options. Lord Mayor Ring noted that housing must be addressed in order to sustain economic development. Speakers shared their support for planned compact and smart urban growth rather than unplanned uneconomical urban

sprawl, acknowledging that while a low density model is popular, it is difficult to meet housing needs with this model.

Our delegation also learned more about Dublin's approach to homelessness, an issue that is urgent within our own region. Speakers shared keys to progress, including:

A single booking system for everyone that has improved information flows and understanding of who is homeless, as well as placement management.
Being open to different options for short-term shelter, such as commercial and hotel facilities.
Staying persistent about the need to get people inside, and walking an appropriate balance between protecting human rights and addressing underlying causes such as untreated mental health issues.

Additionally, speakers discussed how Dublin and Ireland approach their cultural assets. There was deep understanding that maintaining the creative economy is vital for the business ecosystem: it increases tourism, attracts talent to the area and makes for an enjoyable lifestyle. By making culture relevant for all, and making a strong public and philanthropic case for continued investment in it, Dublin's leaders are working to keep arts and culture a vibrant part of the region.

The importance of a region's reputation in a competitive global economy

Lord Mayor Nial Ring listed some of the Dublin region's key traits: a unique, welcoming city with an open economy that offers access to the EU. As a small country with a large international presence, he and speakers stressed that Ireland's reputation is essential for economic drivers such as foreign direct investments. The country prides itself on being business-friendly, a quality it supports with a competitive tax rate and cross-party consensus that it is politically acceptable to meet with business leaders.

Business and civic stakeholders understand that this reputation requires consistent attention.

Nial Ring, Lord Mayor of Dublin. Photo by Alabastro Photography.

At a session with the Dublin Airport and Aer Lingus, delegates learned that Dublin is a key strategic hub between Europe and the U.S., with the fifth most routes into the U.S. out of all Europe gateways. Investments such as a third runway, the first major runway built in Europe in 20 years, will solidify this role.

Leaders also keep the city's reputation in mind as they engage in urban planning, considering how decisions such as mixed-use, coordinated blocks contribute to what has made the Dublin region an area known for vitality and activity. Speakers noted that by thinking about how the physical environment creates a place people want to work in, they are better able to give companies the confidence to move there. The growth of the Silicon Docks also provided a look at how Dublin successfully blends urban planning with vital port functions – an imperative since 90% of consumption comes through the port.


Session with Amazon Web Services Dublin. Photo by Alabastro Photography.

The strong relationship between business and public leaders was on display during a visit to the Dublin office of Amazon Web Services. During our session there, Ireland's Minister for Jobs Enterprise and Innovation noted, “Amazon has established itself as a very significant employer in Ireland and contributes to our goal of building a sustainable economy based on innovation. The company's expansion here is a fine illustration of our position as a world-class driving force in new technologies.”

One area that Ireland strives to improve is entrepreneurship. Speakers spotlighted some key areas for improvement, including incorporating entrepreneurial skills into the education system, such as storytelling and raising capital. Other aspects of encouraging start-ups include diversifying the mix of funding available, increasing the presence of accelerator hubs that bring like-minded founders together, and increasing risk tolerance.

Long-term strategies around issues like technology and a changing political landscape.

Throughout the leadership mission, delegates saw the uncertainty and economic anxiety caused by Great Britain's looming withdrawal from the European Union. Speakers stressed that “There is no ‘good' Brexit.” Roughly 80% of Ireland's exports to the European Union go through Great Britain, and as a result, Brexit puts pressure on this core external connection. Over 5,000 new agreements are being negotiated across all sectors, however, some sectors are already experiencing slowdowns. Our delegation also learned about Brexit's impacts beyond the business world during our visit to Trinity College. The delegation had the opportunity to hear from a Northern Ireland speaker as well, where we learned about the unique complications that Brexit poses here. A recurring lament was that Brexit has taken a tremendous amount of political energy—energy that could have been directed toward issues such as FDI, housing and equality.

The delegation also saw how the business, education, and public sectors are navigating an environment of rapid technological change. At Trinity College, speakers shared that these changes to technology make it hard to teach for 10 years in the future, leading the college to instead teach a methodology for learning new technical skills. The college also has developed re-training programs and microcredentialing in fields such as computer science and engineering. Additionally, the delegation learned about how Irish leaders are preparing a national strategy that anticipates the disruption that artificial intelligence and machine learning will bring to the service industry – a

Delegates connecting with Senator Neale Richmond after his keynote. Photo by Alabastro Photography.

strategy that includes a significant retraining component developed through a close relationship with academia.

Economic ties between Dublin and the greater Seattle region

Enterprise Ireland and Greater Seattle Partners signing a Memorandum of Cooperation. Photo by Alabastro Photography.

Our delegation's visit built on the healthy existing business, trade, cultural, and educational connections between our regions. Major employers headquartered in our region, including Microsoft, Amazon, Expedia, and Starbucks, directly employ 6,000 people in Ireland. Our links are growing stronger: this spring, Enterprise Ireland, the state agency responsible for growing Irish enterprise abroad, announced that it is opening a Seattle office, and in May 2018, Aer Lingus began direct service to Seattle, its third major location in the United States.

On the margins of this mission, members of the delegation participated in 12 one-on-one business development meetings. These included companies like VHI Healthcare, Blockchain Expert Group (IBEG), Technology Ireland, Parc Aviation, and Enterprise Ireland.

Closing Thoughts

Delegates connecting over dinner after “The Vision for Northern Ireland” keynote. Photo by Alabastro Photography.

Throughout the trip, delegates observed how Dublin's leaders address issues like these through a common vision and a sense of shared responsibility in achieving that vision. Regional leaders have worked together to develop a high long-term growth strategy that is also informed by surveys and they have stayed committed to that strategy. This regionalism and collaboration make the region strong – and this cohesion is critical since good times and growth can create as many challenges as bad times.