* Kerry Group to build innovation centre in County Kildare
* Move cements Ireland's position in food research
(Adds comments from ministers, background)
DUBLIN, Oct 9 (Reuters) - Irish food company Kerry Group
is to hire 900 workers for a new food technology centreto be built in Ireland, one of the biggest jobs announcements bya single company in the country since its economic crisis beganfour years ago.
The 100-million-euro ($130 million) centre, to be based inNaas, west of Dublin, will employ 800 people when it beginsoperations in 2015 before expanding to 900, Kerry chiefexecutive Stan McCarthy told a briefing in Dublin on Tuesday.
The export-focused food sector is one of the brightest spotsin Ireland's struggling economy.
"It is absolutely essential to our economy, it accounts for10 percent of Ireland's exports and 8 percent of GDP," PrimeMinister Enda Kenny said, noting the importance of the researchand development side of the sector.
Ireland's growing expertise in dairy, food science andnutrition, which has led to a high number of specialisedgraduates in the sector, helped swing the deal in Ireland'sfavour.
"What I think we've successfully managed to do is to build a... cluster of research activity around food and foodinnovation, which I suspect was a big factor in their decision,"Ireland's agriculture minister Simon Coveney told Reuters.
Kerry, which makes Wall's sausages and Cheesestrings snacksand is one of the largest Irish company on the stock exchange,said the new centre will service its clients across theEuropean, Middle East and Africa region with construction tostart in early 2013.
Local exporters, of which agri-food companies are keycontributors, are dwarfed by non-Irish multinationals in termsof output - accounting for less than 15 percent of exports - butthey employ the same number as global giants including tech andpharma A-listers like Google and Pfizer .
This means their role in job creation is vital in a countrywhere a bloated social welfare bill accounts for a third of allgovernment spending and unemployment remains stubbornly high atalmost 15 percent.
($1 = 0.7711 euros)
(Reporting by Lorraine Turner and Conor Humphries, Editing byMark Potter)
Keywords: IRELAND KERRY/