I’ve been hearing grumblings of late about my good friends at Invest NI and their operation in West Coast USA. Those of you who read my Twitter feed will know that I’m not their biggest fan.
For American/non Northern Irish readers, let me start by explaining who Invest NI are.In their own words, via their website: “As the regional business development agency, Invest NI’s role is to grow the local economy. We do this by supporting new and existing businesses to compete internationally, and by attracting new investment to Northern Ireland.” There is a lot of irony in a government body supporting entrepreneurs; it’s not lost on me. They are regularly bashed on Twitter for being too big, bureaucratic and slow. Too much like government, essentially. (In their defence, what else do we expect? Can we really expect them to move at the same pace as technology and the private sector? Slagging them for being slow is like calling a hurricane evil for wrecking a town; the hurricane can’t help it if it destroys houses).
Invest has offices around the world, from Tokyo to Boston. I know some of the team working abroad; they’re business development and sales executives, with good track records. But, lately, I’ve been hearing some things about their San Jose operation from Invest NI staffers. Namely, that it’s not doing very many deals. I’ve been told by one source that the official number was “0″ as of January 2012 but I haven’t seen documentation to back that up yet. So I’m sending in a request under the Freedom of Information Act to get some numbers. Below is a rough sketch of what I’m submitting:
When did Invest NI’s San Jose office open?
What are the San Jose team’s targets in terms of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) i.e. collective team targets such as “200 jobs created in Northern Ireland by December 2012″? Are these targets set annually, quarterly or monthly?
How many companies has the San Jose team signed up for FDI into Northern Ireland? How many job posts in Northern Ireland have been created?
What is the yearly cost of running the San Jose operation? Please provide a breakdown of costs in full, including staff salaries.
Please provide a copy of the team organisational chart and copies of any strategy documents related to the West Coast operation.
I’ll also be seeking the same stats on Invest’s other worldwide offices. I may have to send these in as separate FOI’s; if I ask for “too much information” (as in the cost is deemed to exceed a set amount, usually £650), I’ll be charged. To get around this, I split the information up into a series of mini requests and dispatch them (a trick I developed as a young reporter that has proved very useful).
Please note that this is not intended as an Invest NI bashing exercise. The staff I know in Invest’s worldwide offices are as hard-working as any entrepreneur. Which is what makes these tales about the San Jose office particularly strange. It could be that the grumblings are untrue and that the team is closing a deal a week. But the sources I’ve spoken to say otherwise. If it is untrue and my sources are wrong (which I doubt as they’re well-placed), I will duly post the FOI results here and on Twitter and receive a bollocking in less than 140 characters.
The hardest part of any story is understanding the “why”. If Invest’s San Jose office has done few or “0″ deals, as sources say, why? Why can they not sell Northern Ireland to Silicon Valley? It would be easy to post a story with the headline “INVEST NI SUCKS” and leave it that. But that’s not fair. And the truth is bound to be much more complex than that. If you have any information, please get in touch. If you work for the West Coast office, I’d love to hear from you. As always, all tips are treated with confidence. Email: lyra at muckraker dot me.
Update 10/06/12 23:00: Couple of corrections folks. Firstly, the FOI cost limit is now set at £450 (I’m wondering if it varies from department to department, must check this). Secondly, I should also note that Invest NI also has other offices in North America (as well as Boston and San Jose).