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London software firms 'could be wooed by Belfast after Brexit'

FLASHBACK: In April Oregon-based software development company Unosquare confirmed it had chosen Belfast as the location of its new engineering centre, creating 100 new jobs by the end of 2019.Pictured are its CEO Mike Barrett (left) and president Giancarlo Di Vece (right) with Invest NI head Alastair Hamilton
Gary McDonald Business Editor

BREXIT could provide a huge opportunity for Northern Ireland to lure software development companies away from London, the founder of a US inward investment firm claims.

Michael Barrett, chief executive of Oregon-headquartered Unosquare, said the region – in particular Belfast – is the perfect near-shore location for large software development firms in London which are expected to struggle to find talent once the UK's divorce from the European Union is complete.

Speaking ahead of his appearance at the Digital DNA conference next week, he said Frankfurt and Dublin have been doing a good job wooing inward investment and relocation of such firms from London, but Belfast is a better option because of the availability of skilled software engineers.

“Brexit could provide a profound opportunity for Belfast,” he said.

“Belfast can be a near-shore software development location for London and that could boost the footprint of the sector here.

“Large multinational companies in London with large teams of workers from all over the EU could struggle to find staff after Brexit, but those jobs still need to be done. London companies are moving teams to Frankfurt and increasingly to Dublin. Belfast needs to get on the program and get on to London.”

He said the challenges which Brexit poses for Northern Ireland won't have a significant impact on the software development sector given its products are exported around the world regardless of borders.

“Most of the challenges are related to customs and around border issues, but when you're talking about software development, those issues don't exist.”

Mr Barrett said it was for a similar reason his US-based company set up a base in Mexico.

“I'm speaking from my own experience. We ran out of talent in the us and a lot of big companies started opening operations in India; we opened in Mexico.

“It is near shore but nobody was thinking about Mexico. It's a strong option to India and I'm going to argue at Digital DNA that Belfast is a better option to Frankfurt.”

He said his own company, Unosquare, was persuaded to set up a base in Belfast because of the level of software engineering talent here, one which saw it beat competition with other cities in Ireland such as Dublin and Dundalk.

It announced in April that it is creating 100 jobs at a new base in Belfast, with assistance from Invest NI.

So far, it has hired around 50 full time employees and Mr Barrett said it has been “very impressed with the engineering talent” and hasn't had any trouble hiring.

“The Unosquare story helps us. Multinational companies hire a lot of engineers which work in large teams who then don't have much interaction with customers.

“Unosquare is different as we have direct interaction with customers which a lot of engineers like and that's why we're able to hire good talent.”

Mr Barett will be speaking at Digital DNA which takes place at St Georges Market in Belfast on June 19 & 20.

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