Northern Ireland could attract a tech giant one day, says Google as it opens new Belfast digital hub
Northern Ireland could attract an industry giant such as Google or Facebook in the future as the burgeoning tech scene here continues to expand, a top Google executive has said.
Ryan Owens, who is originally from Northern Ireland and is now director of Google Shopping, said the region could see one of the world's big tech firms setting up a base in Belfast "definitely in the future".
"At this point in time, where Google is situated, we cover all of Ireland, but I could see in the future where we look at expanding beyond that," he said. "At the moment it's well established in Dublin, London and elsewhere… that's not to say we can't attract firms like Google, Facebook."
Mr Owens was speaking at the launch of Google's Digital Garage in Belfast city centre. It's a new hub which allows the public, and businesses, to undertake courses and workshops to develop and build their digital skills.
"Looking at the growth in Northern Ireland, the tech industry and jobs in the industry are starting to grow, but there is still a large portion - 20% - of adults in Northern Ireland that don't have digital skills, to use for their careers or jobs," he said.
"Google Digital Garage is about building that capability for people, to build that skillset.
"With the location in Belfast at Cornmarket, you can just come in, but you can also go on to the Google Digital Garage website for Belfast and there is a list of courses and workshops on that website - some are multiple weeks and some are one-offs."
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Mr Owens, who is based at Google's Irish base in Dublin, says the company works with many of Northern Ireland's tech businesses.
"When I started in Dublin in 2004, we had about 60 employees. We now have close to 6,000, both full-time and contracted. The growth in Dublin has been significant. We are having these Digital Garage events in Belfast over the next six months, but we are also looking to do more in other parts in Ireland as well.
"We have a lot of businesses from Northern Ireland that we work with so I'm very keen to bring more of Google's presence."
Asked whether Belfast could eventually become a tech hub in a similar, but smaller, vein as Dublin, Mr Owens said: "I would say so. When you look at the tech capabilities in Belfast, it has grown massively in the last 10 years and we have seen lots of tech businesses come from overseas. Foreign investment for tech firms has been significant."