American companies will increasingly look to Northern Ireland to source talent as the global economy recovers, according to the chief executive of healthcare technology firm Navinet.
Brad Waugh, in Belfast last week for the official opening of Navinet’s Belfast office in Titanic Quarter, confirmed his company will have 20 staff here by the end of the year and 60 by the end of 2012.
Navinet — which operates a secure online network between US doctors and health insurers — is expanding its development base out of Boston in preparation for economic recovery.
With the likes of Microsoft and Google moving R&D into Boston, it sees a time when it may not get the first choice of engineers.
“An economic downturn is always followed by an upturn. Our concern is that while we are able to hire good people now, there will be more competition for those people when the economy recovers. Belfast is an insurance policy for us, so that as the company grows we can find good people in a different market,” Mr Waugh told Business Telegraph.
Navinet also saw the opportunity to “be a big fish in a small pond” as opposed to the other way round if it went to China, India, or even the Republic — home to the European operations of some of the tech giants it already faces competition for talent from within the US.
At a time when the US is focused on keeping jobs at home, Waugh said Northern Ireland was “not controversial” to its board as a choice of overseas location.
“In India you expect to lose half of the people you hire within a year. What impressed me here was that the workforce in Northern Ireland is loyal. Their aptitude for technology is high and what we are doing as a healthcare company is not alien to people here,” he said.
As well as an attrition rate of 5% (compared to 20% in the US and 50% in India), Waugh cites as attractions such as the fact that the workforce here have good degrees but tend to be underemployed, the easy access to political leaders, our strong communications links and the ability to get court protection for the sensitive information it holds to the same level as in the US.
“I can see nothing but a good future for US companies that come here. As (US Economic Envoy) Declan Kelly said, it is not about fixing anything in Northern Ireland, it is about getting the message out about what’s here.”
Mr Waugh also praises the high- speed broadband links provided by Project Kelvin for tech companies in Northern Ireland.
“Having that direct link between Belfast and Boston has been a godsend,” he said. “Communications is always an issue in China and India. In India and China it |is mostly satellite communications, and you get dark periods when nothing works.”
President Obama’s US healthcare reforms also signal a bright future for the business, which currently has 250 staff in the States.
Of the 750,000 physicians in the US, Navinet has signed 462,000 up to its network. It’s thought another 170,000 doctors and 300,000 nurses will be needed to cover the extra 30 million people being added to the US healthcare rolls.
“The more people registered the more transactions take place. We are the information superhighway for the UK healthcare industry, so it is great for us.”