Waterford Chamber of Commerce held its AGM last Monday evening and elected a new President in Paul McDaid of the Tower Hotel Group. He replaces Colin McGookin in the post and was congratulated and offered best wishes by his predecessor.

The new man at the helm spoke about the many challenges facing the city at present and how the Chamber were meeting this with a variety of new initiatives in the retail and tourism sector.

“The past year has been a rollercoaster with many businesses having to face a tough economic environment,” he told members. “Firms have been left with no option but to get back to basics, with many firms across the city doing their utmost to survive the crisis.”

The effects of the closure of the Waterford Crystal factory, allied to other jobs losses has had a marked influence, something Mr McDaid is acutely aware of given his day job.

With US tourist numbers down 40 per cent, the city economy is certainly taking a hit, a figure undoubtedly exacerbated by the absence of the Waterford Crystal Visitor Centre as a potential attraction for visitors.

It’s worth pointing out that an examination regarding the viability of a city centre-based Crystal visitor facility is ongoing.

“It is very important to have a continued crystal attraction in order to bring the thousands of American tourists to Waterford next year and the year after that,” Mr McDaid added.

Conscious that City Manager Michael Walsh is working behind the scenes to see what can be done, all at the Chamber remain hopeful of a positive development.

Revitalising Waterford city centre is of vital importance to the Chamber, with Anne Marie Caulfield who chairs its Retail Committee, informing AGM attendants about a new foot fall survey that’s being undertaken.

Several new initiatives were being carried out over the summer to boost trade and attract more people to the city centre.

These include the ‘city in bloom’, which will see businesses installing hanging baskets outside their premises, while ‘A slice of Waterford’, focusing on food is also being lined up.

Time honoured favourite Spraoi will be back in August following its new Peoples’ Park-based event which will precede it this summer. A Food and Fashion event has also been scheduled for September while a ‘Value Waterford’ branded campaign is also in the pipeline.

The ‘Farm in Ballybricken, which proved popular during the Terra Madre Festival, ideally situated given the area’s market history, is currently being discussed with City Hall. The prospect of bringing animals and produce back into the city’s heartland is welcome and represents an excellent idea.

During the summer, it is hoped that the City Council will permit coffee houses and restaurants to have outdoor seating, tables and chairs as a tourism convenience, while further concessions are also being sought on parking.

Fashion retailers are frequently in sale mode given the current climate, with menswear the hardest hit in the sector according to the latest data. The first quarter was down 17 per cent overall in retail and the second quarter is nearly the same.

The Marks & Spencer issue, highlighted in these pages last week, was a subject of debate at the AGM and that will continue to be the case in the coming weeks. Mr McDaid re-iterated his support for the redesignation of WIT to university status and spoke with glee regarding the imminent opening of the new Suir crossing at Grannagh along with the motorway to Dublin.

There’s been a changing of the ranks of late in Waterford Chamber, with Michael Garland replacing Monica Leech as Chief Executive. Tom McCabe (Teva) and Tom Murran (senior partner with Peter O’Connor & Co) recently assumed the Vice President and Deputy President’s briefs.

Difficulty can lead to opportunity was the underlying theme of the meeting, with Mr Garland stating: “This is the year for members to wear out shoe leather when meeting customers and associates.”