Investing in long-term growth

The island of Ireland is well renowned for its success in attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). But how can the region maintain its status as one of Europe's leading destinations for investors? Greg Flynn, Head of Project Management and Advisory Services, provides his opinion on the importance of infrastructure investment for attracting international businesses.


Republic of Ireland (RoI), and especially Dublin, has gained a reputation as a successful, business- friendly gateway to the EU for inward investors, with access to talented employees and tax incentives. Over 200,000 people in RoI are employed by FDI companies, with this number continuing to grow.

Likewise, Northern Ireland (NI) offers a highly attractive package of financial incentives, recruitment and training, research and development support tailored to the needs of investing companies. The region benefited from 35 new FDI projects during 2018 mainly in the fintech and cyber security sectors, representing an increase of 25 percent on the previous year, according to the Department for International Trade. 

Growing Inward Investment

To understand the motives behind this growth, we asked US investors why they would consider investing in the island. Four distinct attractions include:

16% English-speaking region

14% Stable government and open economy

12% Business-friendly regulatory regime

12% Open, liberal economy, integrated into global trade

Future outlook

Whilst the economic prospects for the island look positive, continued growth in international investment is beginning to place a strain on current infrastructure, particularly in large urban centres like Dublin and Belfast. From our survey of construction professionals across the island, a third (33%) do not think there is currently enough infrastructure in place to meet future economic growth.

Addressing these capacity bottlenecks in physical infrastructure is becoming more pressing. Our survey respondents acknowledge that to ensure the island of Ireland sustains its enviable track record, there are many areas of infrastructure development that need to take place. Access to good quality homes, hospitals and schools, high quality transport networks across road, rail and air, office space, affordable energy and fast broadband are all factors in determining not only whether to invest in the island of Ireland but also whether people want to live and thrive in the region.  For those that work for foreign owned companies in Ireland, 77% said that infrastructure provision was either extremely or very important in influencing the decision of their company to locate in Ireland.

Northern Ireland’s Tech Skills Pipeline

Belfast is now the world’s number one destination for FinTech development investment projects ranking as the top city in Europe for new FDI software development. Specialising in attracting tech professionals, around 10,000 people are now employed in technology roles within the financial and professional services sector, a quarter of the total workforce for these sectors in Northern Ireland for the likes of Citi, Allstate, Liberty Mutual, First Derivatives, Deloitte and PwC. They are drawn to the city for the potential cost savings it offers, with salaries 40% lower and property costs 65% lower than those offered in London.

Belfast’s technology talent pipeline is future proofed too, with Queen’s University and Ulster University both specialising in research into cyber security, machine learning and AI.

How important was infrastructure in shaping your decision to locate in Ireland?

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Increasing capacity

The metropolitan area of Dublin accounts for 53% of national GDP and 43% of employment. Between 2000 and 2016 it generated 65% of the national GDP growth. However, Dublin is already struggling to meet demand with both housing and healthcare under pressure - rents in Dublin are 8.8% higher than just a year ago —negatively impacting desired international investment. Likewise, in Northern Ireland, the Belfast City Council area accounts for 18 per cent of the population and 30 per cent of all jobs in Northern Ireland.

From our survey of construction professionals across the island, a third (33%) do not think there is currently enough infrastructure in place to meet future economic growth. AECOM

However, Project Ireland 2040 is focused on a long-term strategy with key investments to improve the country’s growth and resiliency. The National Development Plan sets out a proposal to provide €116 billion in funding – for example €8.5 billion will be invested in water and €6.6 billion on national roads by 2027.

With an extra one million people expected to reside in Ireland by 2040, key to these plans is increasing accessibility and the movement of people in a sustainable way – to work, education, healthcare and leisure. Plenty of plans are underway, especially in Dublin as an ever- growing city. For example, MetroLink, an ambitious high- capacity, high-frequency rail line, will serve crucial destinations from Swords, Dublin Airport and the Mater Hospital, to Dublin City University and Trinity College, and provide faster reliable journey times. BusConnects aims to greatly improve services across the Dublin region, increasing capacity and efficiency with more vehicles and frequency.

Likewise, the DART Expansion Programme will increase the movement of people and better connect with the city’s other transport links, and the Luas Green Line Capacity Enhancement project will also improve capacity, catering for its growing demand, as seen by passengers increases from 30.5 million in 2013 to 41.8 million in 2018.

Brexit: bounce or block?

There is little doubt that Brexit has and will continue to cause uncertainty and negative economic impacts for the both the Irish and Northern Irish economies, especially in addressing the cross-border challenges that arise. Our survey respondents outline the top two potential barriers for the island attracting increased inward investment as Brexit related: top was the impact it will have on cross-border trade within the island of Ireland (23%) and followed by the ongoing political uncertainty that surrounds Brexit (18%).

Which of the following is the biggest potential barrier to increased FDI growth?

However, Brexit also presents several opportunities across the island. The potential for Northern Ireland to have unique dual access to both the UK and EU markets, could see increased investment aligned against this exclusive characteristic. It remains to be seen whether this will come to fruition or whether having to comply with EU rules and UK rules simply results in higher business costs within Northern Ireland. Until the final conditions have emerged it will be difficult to predict what the economic impact on Northern Ireland or the wider island of Ireland will look like.

With Brexit there is an opportunity to redesign and consolidate networks across the island. For example, if procurement is done in the UK for EU production, the function could in the future be relocated or centralised within a hub located within Ireland. In addition, where UK production activities exists for EU markets, there may be an incentive to relocate production, or at least the process of finishing goods, to an EU location. Setting up warehousing and distribution networks could also be considered. Distribution may see volume shift from orders going via the UK to the EU, US or other markets, potentially creating an impact on freight rates. Systems may need extensive work to reconfigure information such as raw materials, transport options, supplier, invoicing, duties or VAT.

This provides the island with an exciting opportunity to continue to break into global supply chains. Major disruption is happening globally in nearly every industry due to factors like digital transformation and environmental sustainability, this is creating opportunities to supply new types of products and services into global supply chains. But the island must be ready with the relevant infrastructure in place to welcome in these new opportunities.


LinkedIn now has a workforce of 1,700 in Dublin, coming from 55 different countries and over half of whom are Irish nationals. AECOM embraced LinkedIn’s vision for Ireland and helped in successfully delivering its impressive EMEA headquarters, which opened in 2017, on time, on budget, and with 100% client satisfaction.

This was a big project, which moved at a fast pace and involved working with LinkedIn teams both in Dublin and San Francisco, so precise planning, constant communication and collaborative technologies were the key to delivering this project on time and on budget. We were involved from site search, due diligence and acquisition; through to designing, costing, procuring and managing the works on site. Building Information Modelling (BIM) was a very big part of the programme. Embracing technology is indisputable – it enabled us to bring about greater efficiencies to the project and reduce any potential risks.

Following AECOM’s successful project management of the project we were asked to set up a Project Delivery Optimisation (PDO) team to apply this process across LinkedIn’s growing portfolio of global workplaces.

To facilitate this, AECOM’s PDO team developed a bespoke digital ‘Project Management Playbook’. The Playbook, is to be used in the onboarding of external project managers, design teams and general contractors. It will provide guidance on LinkedIn’s project processes, reporting and document management as well as helping upskill team members to use the latest digital tools for efficient delivery.

Alongside, our collaboration with LinkedIn’s design and build team, we are engaging with the wider Global Workplace Services (GWS) team to help realise their aspirations.

During this early project stage, we worked closely with LinkedIn's sourcing team to develop template documents and define consistent processes that can accelerate procurement and agreement of external partners. Our focus is to drive smarter, faster and better project delivery to build out high-quality LinkedIn offices wherever they’re located.

Our unique offer provides the LinkedIn's design and build team, with centralised support for external teams as well as internal stakeholders. In addition, our experts are performing ongoing project health checks to ensure the information available — in near real-time —to the GWS team is accurate and up-to-date. Ultimately, the goal of PDO is to enable successful project execution across LinkedIn’s portfolio, defining processes and best practice from day one to completion.


As domestic and international travel increases and the growing trend of FDI companies in Ireland, more pressure is on airports to provide greater services. Dublin Airport – Ireland’s busiest - welcomed almost 31.5 million passengers through its doors in 2018, and with major capital investment programme planned, that number is set to grow to over 40 million passengers a year.

This investment will deliver new capacity in the northern end of the airport close to Terminal 1 and the southern apron area close to Terminal 2. With greater transport links planned to and from the airport, more services and improved airport terminal design, passenger experiences will improve and help boost the economy further.

AECOM has been working with Dublin Airport Authority (daa) on a variety of projects from a new Masterplan for Dublin Airport - looking at everything from surface access and baggage handling through to the environmental inputs – and multidisciplinary design services for the Capacity Development Plan to help the airport operate efficiently and grow sustainably.

Acting as lead consultant and technical advisor to daa, we defined the Capital Investment Programme (CIP) 2020-2024 for the Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR), comprising recommendations for infrastructure development and providing high level design, construction sequencing and cost planning for key elements of infrastructure including terminals, piers, airfield, surface access, drainage and utilities.

AECOM coordinated all feasibility studies including supervising 10 multi-disciplinary design and cost consulting teams on behalf of daa. We acted as technical coordinator, programme manager, PSDP, programme scheduler and risk manager, capacity planner and central point of contact for daa by managing deliverables across projects and ensuring the production of a technically and commercially sound proposal for submission to CAR. We also served as key stakeholder interface between daa and any internal and external stakeholders coordinating the demands of the airport into the various feasibility studies.