The Isle of Man has lofty ambitions to become a technology business hotspot, but will need the skills to support it
As a crown dependency, the Isle of Man, located in between Great Britain and Ireland (not to mention the fictional Isle of Sodor), is not part of the UK nor has it ever been a member of the European Union (EU).
Westminster is responsible for foreign affairs and defence, but everything else is left to the island’s own elected parliament, led by a chief minister. This gives the Isle of Man autonomy over its domestic affairs and determine its own economic future.
Finance has traditionally been the bedrock of the Manx economy. Low income tax and the absence of other forms of taxation have fostered the creation of a significant offshore banking industry, but in recent years, the Isle of Man has turned to technology in attempt to diversify.
By 2020, ‘emerging sectors’ are expected to provide 20 percent of the employment for the island, up from 14 percent, and 33 percent of GDP, up from 25 percent. E-business is set to account for 90 percent of the ‘emerging’ growth, with two thirds of new jobs set to be in ICT.
“The Enterprise Development Scheme is a vital part of our strategy for nurturing local talent and creating more jobs for Isle of Man workers,” said Laurence Skelly, minister for the department of economic development earlier this year.
“The Scheme covers three key areas of business growth offering the opportunity for people to start, grow and relocate their business to the Isle of Man and further grow our Island’s economy.”
Manx Telecom, Pokerstars and Microgaming are cited as examples of major firms based on the island and the government also points to the creation of a fast growing Blockchain cluster. Indeed, the Isle of Man also boasts what is the first known government service to be run on Blockchain.
A world leading centre
Finance is never too far away, as demonstrated by previous ambitions to become a centre for cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. It made legislative changes to minimise the threat of money laundering and other criminal activity, while ensuring legitimate businesses can benefit from the new technology.
But it’s keen to attract more businesses, pointing to “robust” telecoms infrastructure, unlimited power supply, the presence of five state of the art data centres and good IP treaties as reasons why the tech sector can thrive in the middle of the Irish Sea.
The government sees potential to become a “world leading centre for technology” and claims that its infrastructure and culture makes it the ideal microcosm for the UK and other European countries, meaning tech firms can use the island as a testbed for advanced technologies.
The Isle of Man was the first part of Europe to have a fully digital telephone network and in 2001, Manx Telecom was the first European operator to launch a live 3G service. Indeed, back in 2002, O2 tested out 3G on the island ahead of its UK launch.
But lofty ambitions require the nurturing of talent and that’s why this week, a new ‘IT & Education campus’ was opened to provide IT and business-related higher education courses and access to technology employers on the island.