Investing in the future of Cork city

Both indigenous and FDI companies are playing a crucial role in developing the Cork city region – and with continued investment, the future is looking bright, says Ronan Murray of EY

Ronan Murray, M& strategy and transactions partner for EY Cork: ‘From an FDI perspective, Cork has always been ahead of the curve. We are incredibly strong in life sciences, both pharma and MedTech, and have deep expertise in the tech space’

To say that 2022 is becoming a busy year for Ronan Murray would be an understatement. As well as joining EY as a Merger and Acquisitions (M&A) Partner within the firm’s Strategy and Transactions (SaT) team in May, he was elected President of Cork Chamber of Commerce within the same period.

Murray smilingly described it as “like two buses coming at once,” but he sees both roles as a natural fit for him and he has ambitious plans for each.

What they also afford him is a unique perspective on the business landscape in Cork city, with both a micro and macro lens of the Munster region.

His prognosis is positive, thanks to the fact that Ireland has maintained its place in the top ten for FDI attractiveness in Europe in 2021, according to the EY European Attractiveness Survey 2022. While that position reflects the whole country, there are reasons why Cork played a significant role in achieving that top ten ranking.

For one thing, its talent is a major attraction, with access to a huge talent pool from Munster Technological University (MTU) and University College Cork (UCC). The fact that Cork University Business School is working on a new building within Cork city centre, located at the former Brooks Haughton builder’s yard, is also a positive in terms of continued city centre development.

“From an FDI perspective, Cork has always been ahead of the curve, particularly in certain sectors. We are incredibly strong in life sciences, both pharma and MedTech, and equally we have deep expertise in the technology space as well,” Murray said.

Globally, these industries show limited sign of slowing and in Cork they continue to make significant investment both from a capital and indeed employment perspective. “There have been a number of job announcements over the last 12 to 24 months, so it’s a region that is going from strength to strength in terms of FDI,” he added.

“For us, looking at the indigenous piece, it’s a critical component of the economic fabric of the island, as well as being central to Cork and the evolution of the planned wider regional development.

“The private sector is both the fulcrum and the platform for what we do and can achieve in the region. EY Private and our market leading Entrepreneur of the Year programme allows us at EY to work with and then celebrate the best of Irish business. While FDI is important, we must remain as focused on supporting our own private indigenous companies on the island.”

That work ties into Murray’s role at EY, where he is part of the firm’s Strategy and Transactions (SaT) Practice, focusing on M&A. SaT is just one of EY’s four key components: the other strategic areas are assurance, tax and consulting.

Recently, it launched EY Law Ireland and EY Parthenon, another example of how EY is evolving and providing an increasing end-to-end range of client services.

All of EY’s service lines are growing both nationally and locally, and it’s an exciting time for the firm.

“Our Cork office is the largest in the region and we have significant growth plans in place that will allow us deliver for our clients and our people,” Murray said. “We are actively working with clients to help them unlock value and achieve their growth objectives.

“Activity has already grown in 2022: we are helping a number of its clients prepare for transactions and the outlook is very optimistic. This is often in parallel with support from tax colleagues.

“We’ve numerous new mandates already that we’ve started to work on and these are across different sectors. There’s a lot of appetite out there for strategic growth, for business owners to achieve their objectives, and there’s significant capital out there in both private equity and in access to debt.

“There are many strong companies in Cork and the Munster region that are growing and expanding either organically or via acquisition. The pipeline is quite visible for the next few months and beyond.”

While it’s always difficult to predict how the next year or two will look, despite prevailing uncertainties in the market, there continues to be optimism that this positive investment trend will continue.

It’s not the only trend that’s gathering pace. One element that Murray is keeping an eye on is the development of ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) in enterprise.

He sees it as a real opportunity for Cork city itself to become the investment city of choice in Ireland, not only as a counterbalance to continual investment in Dublin, but in how it can transition to a low-carbon economy.

The latter can make it very attractive in ways that go beyond just lowering a figure, he explains, and his team is seeing significant activity in that area.

“Being led by ESG will encourage companies to foster innovation while also improving citizen’s quality of life. That in turn will bring additional and new types of employment opportunities to Cork and the wider region,” he said.

“In terms of transactions, the right type of companies in ESG are very attractive. It’s an area where capital will continue to be deployed whether through private equity firms or individual companies that wish to acquire something within that space.

“There’s a real sense of capital flow towards that sector, and as long as the regulatory environment in Governance in Europe continues to be focused on climate action and sustainability, these companies will be at the forefront of M&A activity for the next number of years.”