The Government’s new Regional Enterprise Plan is targeting the creation of 10,000 new jobs in the South East between now and the end of 2020. The plan, which was launched in Waterford on Friday last, offers further evidence of enhanced regional co-operation according to several of the plan’s major stakeholders, in addition to Oireachtas representatives in Waterford and Kilkenny.
“Speaking with one voice is so much more powerful,” said Regional Enterprise Plan Chair Frank O’Regan. “To hear Minister (John Paul) Phelan talk about Waterford as capital of the city region – how powerful is that? He wears Black and Amber, but who’s going to stop us if we can talk in that way as a region?” The jobs target, originally identified in the Action Plan for Jobs, aims to boost employment levels by 10 to 15 per cent over the next 21 months and to bring the region’s unemployment rate to within one per cent of the national average.
Admitting that such targets are ambitions, Frank O’Regan told the assembled audience at WIT’s Applied Technology Building: “Over 32,000 new jobs have been created over the past six years in the South East region; Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland have posted record jobs numbers in the South East for 2018 and cutting-edge companies such as Bausch + Lomb, Glanbia and MSD have committed to investing around €500 million in the region in the last six months alone. There is so much innovative and ambitious business activity in the region and through the South East Regional Enterprise Plan we need to maintain the positive activity of everyone involved in job creation in the region.”
The fresh jobs drive will also involve the creation of a new Ireland South East Development Office, described at last Friday’s launch as the first such office of its kind in the State. “This plan is all about collaboration,” said Business, Enterprise and Innovation Minister, Heather Humphreys (FG), who launched the report on Friday last.
“It has brought together the ideas of various stakeholders including business, local authorities, the IDA, Enterprise Ireland, the Local Enterprise Offices, the Regional Skills Forum and others…it’s about building on the strengths of the region and identifying where there are weaknesses and how we can address them.”
Speaking to the media following the launch, Minister of State John Halligan (IA) said the plan “recognises that we must all work together in the South East. During the recession, comparatively as a region, the South East suffered most but there is a recognition now that if we work together with all the counties within the region, which we saw today with John Paul Phelan recognising Waterford as the capital of the South East, but our objective is to work in collaboration with Kilkenny, Wexford and all our South East partners, that’s how sustainability will come into our region’s economy if we come together and work together.”
Addressing the launch prior to attending another commitment in Thomastown, Minister of State John Paul Phelan (FG) stated: “At the height of the Celtic Tiger, the South East lagged behind the rest of the country in terms of job creation; we had the lowest disposable income and the lowest third level attendance of any region in the country and the fact that the Government has paved the way for an application to be made for a university for our region – and it will happen – the fact that we are seeing job creation really grow in the last year or so in the South East while recognising that the unemployment level in our region remains above the national average – initiatives like this will really work in that regard.”
Commending the cross-local authority co-operation which has led to the creation of the Ireland South East Development Office, Minister Phelan said that restoring and reinvigorating the ‘Sunny South East’ brand was essential. He feels that the “first real brand that we had” had been somewhat discarded over the past 20 years “down to people like me, probably, and others, that we decided to look at things from our own narrow county position.” Minister Phelan stated: “Waterford is the capital of our region and is the main economic driver and the success that Waterford has had through groups like SEAM (the WIT-based manufacturer whose 10th anniversary was also marked at last Friday’s launch) and others, when we think back to where Waterford was in 2009, where the South East was, where those large old industries – Carlow Town was very similar to Waterford – that had left and were gone, that gap has been filled by innovation and development of a kind that was ahead of the curve for the rest of the country, and that’s largely down to the efforts of our third level institutes.”
Minister Phelan noted the €18 million investment that will be made in the region over the next few years via the Urban Regeneration and Development Fund (URDF) which will lead to developments in Waterford, Kilkenny, Tramore, Clonmel, Wexford Town and Thurles.
Referencing Waterford’s North Quay, Kilkenny’s Brewery site and Kickham Barracks in Clonmel, the Ferrybank-based TD said these “disused urban centres” represented “massive banks of land with great potential”. He added: “The local authorities and the Department have not just got plans for, they’re going to develop those key sites into the future.” Minister Humphreys noted the ongoing construction of a second IDA Advance Factory in Waterford which will be completed later this year, adding: “And there are plans to build a third IDA facility here, and that has been allowed as I increased the budget to the IDA under the Regional Property Programme, which forms part of this plan’s second objective.”