By Paul Sandle and Conor Humphries
DUBLIN (Reuters) - Small tech firms are set to create up to 2,000 jobs in Ireland, following the lead of web giants like Google and Facebook, the country's investment agency said on Wednesday as nine firms announced hundreds of new positions.
The companies said they were basing their regional headquarters in Ireland because of the quality of the workforce rather than its low tax rate, which has led to criticism of the country from the U.S. Senate.
Nine firms in software development, online security and digital media announced a total of 330 jobs at a reception hosted by Prime Minister Enda Kenny.
"We are probably going to build up to about 2,000 jobs over a period of two to three years," said Barry O'Dowd, who manages a team of 12 people based in cities around the United States and Europe to attract start-ups to Ireland for the country's investment agency, the IDA.
Seventy companies have already signed up, and tax, he said, was a minor factor.
Ireland has come under severe pressure since a U.S. Senate committee investigation revealed in May that Apple had cut billions from its tax bill by declaring companies registered in Ireland as not tax resident in any country.
"The tax is certainly nice, but it's not the only reason that we are going to come here," said Lauren Vaccarello, an executive with online targeted advertising platform AdRoll, which announced the creation of 100 jobs at its new European headquarters in Dublin.
Companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter, which employ thousands of people in Dublin between them, provide an incredible talent pool for very specific skills, executives said.
"You have got such a diversity of some of the world's most prestigious blue-chip companies here that give real rocket fuel to the ecosystem," said Simon Devonshire of Wayra, a start-up accelerator owned by Spain's Telefonica, which has a centre in Dublin.
Wayra was one of hundreds of companies attending a summit of tech start-ups in Dublin, which drew 10,000 participants.
Another attraction is Ireland's size means it gives access to regulators and politicians, an advantage highlighted by the Ireland's investment agency.
"If you need access to government, feel free to call," Kenny told the nine executives. He said Ireland would cooperate on international tax reform, but that its headline 12.5 percent corporate tax rate would not change.
U.S. high-tech groups Google Inc and Microsoft Corp have cut their overseas tax rates to single digits by establishing Dublin-registered units, which they have designated as tax resident in Bermuda.
Google and Microsoft say they follow tax rules in every country where they operate. Apple has said it has paid all the tax it should have.
(Editing by David Evans)