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Southern charms

There is a lot going for the southern half of the country when it comes to business or setting up a second office outside Dublin

Waterford has a well-established life-sciences cluster. Photograph: iStock

Waterford has a well-established life-sciences cluster. Photograph: iStock

 

With property prices and wages in Dublin spiralling ever upwards, more companies are beginning to see the merits of having an office outside the capital city.  Not only does such a move involve lower costs, sourcing premises is much easier and having employees who do not have to endure Dublin’s commuter traffic can improve productivity.

“Often, companies that open offices in the south find that they already have staff from those regions who are quite happy to move back to their home towns,” says Martin Corkery, Enterprise Ireland’s regional director for the south and south-east. “If you look at Wexford, Gorey and Carlow, very often people are commuting from there to Dublin. If they could work for the same company from a local office, they are much happier – instead of spending three hours a day commuting, they are spending only half an hour in the car.

“But it’s not just companies setting up second offices, there are plenty of enterprises starting up here.”

The southern region comprises the counties of Carlow, Clare, Cork, Kerry, Kilkenny, Limerick, Tipperary, Waterford and Wexford, and Corkery says a distinguishing feature here is that it has a very good entrepreneurial eco-system with plenty of supports for start-ups and growing businesses.

“A lot of the supports available are linked in with the third-level institutions in the region, where Enterprise Ireland has made significant investment in incubator facilities,” he says. “At a micro-enterprise level, there is support from the local enterprise offices, which work very closely with local authorities but are funded by Enterprise Ireland. Once a company grows and starts exporting, we can offer additional help, mainly delivered through the third-level institutions.”

The third-level facilities in the region stretch from the Institute of Technology Tralee (ITT) in the west to the Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) in the east and, in between, you also have University of Limerick (UL), Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT), University College Cork (UCC), Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) and Carlow Institute of Technology (CIT).

“Traditionally, the institutes of technology have always worked very closely with industry,” says Carole O’Leary, industrial liaison manager at CIT. “And Cork IT and Waterford IT would be two of the three biggest institutes of technology in the country – we would both have bigger research budgets than NUI Galway or Maynooth University.

“There are a number of ways that the institutes of technology support industry. Firstly, our programmes are devised with the needs of industry in mind. If a large company has a sufficient number of employees in need of training in a particular area, we will put on a course for them. If there is an existing course, we will tweak it to meet that company’s needs and the participants who complete the course will get a credit towards an academic qualification if they wish to pursue further studies. Where there are employees who have degrees already but they may have gaps in certain areas, say cloud computing, we can put on a course that looks at just that area.

“Our students would usually do a three-month internship with a company in third or fourth year and very often, if they continue into the summer, they do a six-month internship. Their final-year project will be industry-focused and very often will come out of the work they did while they were serving as interns. Industry also offers scholarships to first and second years – it gets that company’s brand better known with the student body and those who win the scholarships will do an internship with that company, maybe have a summer job with them and, providing they achieve the necessary academic results, there will be an opening for them when they graduate.”

Research and development is another key area where third-level institutes help businesses in the southern region, says Corkery, pointing out that the region has several world-class research facilities. In Cork, there is the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre, which specialises in studying gastrointestinal health; the Tyndall National Institute, which specialises in ICT research; CAMMS (the Centre for Advanced Manufacturing & Management Systems), attached to CIT’s School of Mechanical, Biomedical and Manufacturing Engineering; and the Halpin Centre for Research & Innovation at the National Maritime College of Ireland in Ringaskiddy.

In Limerick, there is Lero, the Irish software research centre, and in Wexford, there is the National Nutrition Centre; ArcLabs; the TSSG (Telecommunications, Software and Systems Group); and SEAM (the South Eastern Applied Materials Research Centre).

“SEAM is perhaps the research centre that is busiest with manufacturing-related research projects,” says Corkery. “It has been especially good at looking at 3D printing, particularly 3D printing of metals, and helping to develop new applications for this technology.”

Added to this support from research institutions, there is also a culture of mentoring and mutual assistance in this part of the world.

“Cork has four well-established industry clusters – technology, cybersecurity, bio-pharma and medical technology” says O’Leary. “There is a real buzz about cybersecurity at the moment – there are at least a dozen companies working in this area in Cork and last week two more overseas cybersecurity companies visited CIT because they are thinking of setting up a base here. We don’t usually get two enquiries in a week – but it does show the level of interest in this developing cluster.

“The technology and bio-pharma clusters are very strong too – with more than 15 major companies in each sector having a presence in the Cork region. Medtech isn’t as strong, with only seven companies, but it is growing.”

Limerick is home to one of Ireland’s newest industry clusters, the Sports Tech, which is centred around the National Sports Campus at UL and the LIT Sportlab strength and conditioning centre in Thurles. Sports Tech is concerned with all aspects of sports science, from equipment to nutrition, and it’s reckoned that already there are 500 people employed in sports-related ventures in Limerick.  Also based in Limerick is ISAX, the Ireland Smart Ageing Exchange, an independent network of businesses, Government agencies and academic institutions that aim to fast-track R&D focused on tapping into the ‘smart aging economy’, which is reckoned will be worth €15trillion by 2020.

Innovate Limerick, a special purposes company established by the Limerick City and County Councils, is also working to make the city a focus for film production and multi-media content centred on the Troy Studios complex, which is located in the former Dell factory in Castletroy.

In the last year, funding has been provided to expand the facilities at Broadford and Newcastle West Enterprise Centres, and at the Kantoher and Rathkeale Enterprise Park. This will help Innovate Limerick double the number of firms in incubation and in receipt of first-time financial support.

Waterford too has a well-established life-sciences cluster, but it is a moot point as to whether this cluster is a truly separate entity from the bio-pharma cluster in Cork. What is new, however, is Crystal Valley Tech, a new group established this year, which comprises more than 20 ICT companies with a presence in the south-east. These include:  SE2, Routematch, four Theorem, Sunlife, Immersive VR Education, Dataworks, Kyckr, Nearform, Waterford Technologies, Microservices, Bluefin Payment Systems, Suir Valley Ventures, 110%, CGM, LiquidEdge, Servisbot and Redhat. 

“A huge transformation has happened in the ICT industry in Waterford,” says Prof Willie Donnelly, founder of the Crystal Valley Tech group. “From virtually no companies in 1996, the region now has both an indigenous and FDI cohort of companies trading globally as well as its own venture capital company, Suir Valley Ventures. Our local companies are winning international awards and competing directly with Silicon Valley companies. Thanks to the investment in Carriganore Arclabs and the TSSG, the city has established an ecosystem connecting entrepreneurs, high potential start-ups and multinational companies. This has created a young, dynamic, creative and entrepreneurial community which is transforming the city.”

Corkery adds: “Waterford also has the benefit of a strong engineering heritage, with several major firms based in the area, such as the Burnside Group, which manufactures pneumatic pumps for use in heavy plant machinery; Kent Stainless, who are specialists in stainless-steel drainage systems, stainless-steel sanitary-ware and stainless-steel street furniture; and Schivo, a highly innovative sub-contractor that serves several industries including med-tech, aerospace and the oil and gas industry.

Political entity

The nine counties that form this region are a political entity under the Southern Regional Assembly, which was formed by the 2014 Local Government Reform Act. Headquartered in Waterford, the assembly is responsible for preparing a regional spatial and economic strategy for the nine counties and also for coordinating applications for funding from various EU development support programmes, such as the North-West Europe Programme, the Atlantic Area Programme and the Ireland-Wales Cooperation Programme.

However, when it comes to the Government’s €250 million regional employment creation programme – the region is divided in three with a separate action plan for the south-west (Cork and Kerry), the mid-west (Clare, Limerick and north Tipperary) and the south-east (Carlow, Kilkenny, south Tipperary, Waterford and Wexford). All three action plans aim to increase the numbers in work by 10-15 per cent, but each plan has a slightly different emphasis depending on the existing strengths of each region. Each one covers topics such as manufacturing, biopharma, tourism, education and training, and multinational investment.

The Southeast Action Plan for Jobs aims for a 40 per cent increase in output by the agri-food sector and developing the region as an international centre of excellence in food production and food product development. One of the results of this is the formation of Taste Cork, a marketing group that aims to create a strong regional food brand identity for Cork, while also optimising routes to market for producers and food entrepreneurs; increasing the number of sustainable local SME food producers; attracting food tourism to the region and enhancing collaboration between food businesses and food scientists.

There is a strong emphasis on agri-food in the Southeast Action Plan for Jobs as well, but here the target is subtly different: increase exports by 85 per cent over the next 10 years with measures including a new food tech summit, an artisan food hub and a centre of excellence for ICT in agriculture.

“I think it is fair to say that the APJ is having a positive impact,” says Paul Nolan, group development manager at Dawn Meats and president of Waterford Chamber of Commerce. “The latest CSO Quarterly National Household Survey shows that since the launch of the plan in 2015, there are now an additional 13,000 more people at work and at the same time the unemployment rate has fallen by almost 3.5 percentage points, from 12.8 per cent to 9.3 per cent.”

So the southern region is prospering, shouldn’t you be interested in being part of that?

Conference call

For any organisation wanting to get out of Dublin for a special event, Killarney has long been a favourite conference venue.

The Kerry town has more hotel bedrooms than anywhere outside of Dublin, so there is no problem organising accommodation for conference delegates. Dublin is three-and-a-quarter hours away by train or, according to the AA, three hours and 39 minutes by car. For overseas delegates, Cork Airport is only an hour and a quarter away – but if you can organise for delegates to fly in from London Stansted or Luton or from Frankfurt, then Kerry Airport is 17 minutes down the road.

There is more than 50 years of conferencing experience behind the Killarney Convention Centre at the Gleneagle Hotel, which can handle a maximum capacity of 2,500 delegates in the full auditorium.

“We are Ireland’s largest purpose-built conference and events centre offering 4,500sq m of floor space and the capacity to stage the most challenging of events,” says Mark Egan, the Gleneagle Group’s director of corporate events. “With a turnaround time of 40 minutes, we can convert the space from a lecture theatre to a banquet hall for dinner and have the venue set up for workshop seating by the time your delegates return after breakfast.”

Cork is an upcoming challenger for Killarney’s crown in the convention stakes – a new Cork Events Centre is to be built on the site of the old Beamish & Crawford brewery, right in the heart of the city, and it promises to have a 6,000 seater auditorium.

Meanwhile, the city on the Lee can easily cater for conferences of 1,000 people or more – the Silver Springs Hotel, for example, can cater for 1,500 people over two floors or 952 in just the main ballroom. The Estuary Suite at the Rochestown Park Hotel has a conference capacity of 895 people, but with a total of 12 meeting rooms, this venue can handle events involving up to 2,000 people.

Cork Airport, which has 55 connections to the UK and Europe, is only 8km from the city centre; the rail journey from Dublin takes two hours and 35 minutes and by car its reckoned to take two hours and 52 minutes. Once you arrive in ‘the food capital of Ireland’, there is a great range of accommodation to choose from, with more than 2,000 bed nights available in the city and another 10,000 across the county.

The largest conference and events centre in the south-east is the new WIT Arena, which has a seating capacity for 2,000 people and banqueting facilities for 1,000. This is a stand-alone facility on the outskirts of Waterford, just off the N25 motorway, less than two hours from Dublin via the M9.

Next year, the WIT Arena will host the Babson College Entrepreneurship Research Conference, a prestigious event rarely held outside the US and that is being held in Ireland for the first time next year.