Dundalk has got back its business groove

Initiatives to bring jobs and investment to Dundalk have had some success in recent years

PayPal launch: Louise Phelan, PayPal’s vice president of global operations for Europe, Middle East and Africa, shakes hands with Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the recent official opening of the International Operations centre of eBay in Dundalk which includes PayPal and eBay. Photograph: Alan Betson

PayPal launch: Louise Phelan, PayPal’s vice president of global operations for Europe, Middle East and Africa, shakes hands with Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the recent official opening of the International Operations centre of eBay in Dundalk which includes PayPal and eBay. Photograph: Alan Betson

Mon, Jun 30, 2014, 01:15

This month’s announcement that PayPal will be creating 400 additional jobs in its Dundalk base illustrates the strides that have been made in a region eager to cast off an image of industrial closures and reinvent itself not only as a home to high-tech but also a welcoming base for start-ups.

Away from the political pomp and ceremony accompanying multinational announcements, however, it has been a long and difficult road to renewal for the town.

Traditionally regarded as the industrial hub of the northeast such was the esteem in which big employers including the Great Northern Brewery and the Ecco electronics factory were held, supporters of the town’s football team still refer to them in their songs.

Across the road from the club grounds at Oriel Park, Clarke Station stands as a lone epitaph to the Great Northern Railway company that had employed an average of 1,000 locals before its closure in the 1950s in an ominous indication of things to come.

As the rising tide of the Celtic tiger years lifted all boats, however temporarily, Dundalk seemed to remain stuck in the mud.

The air of stagnation from preceding decades became ever more prevalent in the late 2000s amid more large-scale job losses in Vodafone, Halifax and the soon-to-be-closed brewery.

“You had the Troubles in the North, the loss of the shoe, tobacco and drinks industries as well as heavy engineering,” recalls Paddy Malone, a former president of the chamber of commerce and veteran custodian of several businesses in the town. “There was little appetite in the rest of the country for supporting Dundalk and we had to stand by ourselves. It was a difficult time for everybody.”

Successive reports commissioned by the town council and Border, Midland and Western (BMW) regional assembly in 2011 and 2013 painted a bleak picture of Dundalk as one of Ireland’s most deprived areas, with soaring unemployment rates – which peaked at more than 7,500 from a population of 38,000 – during the worst of the decline served only to accentuate the misery.

Given the gloomy backdrop, few could have anticipated the flurry of job announcements from large multinational corporations such as PayPal, eBay, Warner Chilcott and Prometric since 2010 that have reinvigorated the ailing local economy along with creating much-needed employment for the region.

“There’s a herd instinct, and every time that people hear an announcement such as PayPal’s in Dundalk, they start thinking ‘Ireland must be good if they’re investing there’, and by extension ‘Dundalk must be good, so let’s have a look at it’,” says Glen Dimplex founder Martin Naughton, who is originally from the town.

Naughton, who now has an estimated net worth of more than €2 billion, is in no doubt as to what Dundalk’s most attractive attribute is for such organisations: location, location, location.

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