Tech playing key role in Silicon Valley, Ireland bond 

From the Gold Rush to the high-tech boom, the Irish have played a prominent role over the years in the area’s economic development, much of it now tied to Silicon Valley.

Collectively the 10th largest investor in the United States, Irish companies employ more than 5,000 employees in California, many of them at 39 companies located here in the Bay Area, including on the Peninsula, said Diane Roberts, senior vice president of Enterprise Ireland’s West Coast operations.

Her organization’s job, as part of the Irish government, is to foster that relationship and to encourage more companies to set up shop here, Roberts said Friday, just two days before a scheduled panel discussion on Ireland’s ties to Silicon Valley at the San Mateo County History Museum.

"We realized Silicon Valley is the eye of the storm, so we had to be here to advise Irish companies on where the industry is going," Roberts said.

Ireland’s ties to Silicon Valley "are the most natural thing in the world" given our history in the area, Roberts said.

Ireland’s connection to the Bay Area and San Mateo County date back to at least the early 1800s, said Mitch Postel, president of the San Mateo County History Association.By 1880, more than 10 percent of the county’s 8,700 residents were Irish-born. That didn’t include the second generation born on American soil, Postel said.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that when Ireland began to transition from a primarily agricultural economy about 15 years ago, it seized on its young population, with 36 percent being under age 25, and its high level of college education as a source of strength.

It wasn’t long before companies such as Intel and Microsoft set up their European offices in Ireland because it was cheap, Roberts said.

Apple, Google, Intel, Oracle and Yahoo are among the Silicon Valley firms investing in Ireland, according to the Industrial Development Agency of Ireland.

The Unites States is now the largest market for software developed in Ireland, accounting for 33 percent of Irish software exports, according to Irish Minister for Enterprise Trade and Employment Micheál Martin.

For more information on Sunday’s 2 p.m. forum, call (650) 299-0104.

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