County Donegal has become a pioneer in the adoption and facilitation of remote working.
In March 2021, Donegal County Council became one of the first local authorities in Ireland to adopt a remote working strategy and has supported the creation of a high-speed digital infrastructure that matches that of large cities.
The county also boasts a growing network of remote and co-working hubs. These hubs offer everything from high-speed broadband, full office suites, and single offices to shared remote and co-working spaces.
That far-seeing approach is part of an overall strategy to build on the county’s strong enterprise ecosystem.
“When people consider Donegal they don’t tend to think about sectors like medtech, fintech, process engineering and advanced manufacturing but we have all of them here,” says Garry Martin, director of economic development with Donegal County Council.
“We are trying to strengthen the county’s brand and get the message out there about the great companies we have in Donegal.”
He lists some of the top companies which have chosen to locate in the country.
"We have Randox in the healthcare diagnostics area; Tata Consultancy Services, the third largest fintech company in the world which bought Pramerica some time ago; health information technology firm Optum Healthcare; aviation technology provider SITA; Cerebreon which is in data machine intelligence for the debt industry; and Zeus is a leader in polymer extrusion technologies for medical as well as non-medical applications."
That diversity is a far cry from the overexposure to traditional industries like textiles which plagued the country for many years.
“One thing we’ve learned is not to put all our eggs in one basket,” says Martin. “We now have a lot of really good companies in advanced manufacturing and services sectors providing good value added employment. We have quite a lot of home-grown success stories as well. They all contribute to that very strong business ecosystem.”
Among the county’s key strengths is a deep pool of talent.
“The common factor for businesses is that they are all chasing talent,” he explains. “And talent is scarce and expensive. They are looking at where the people and skills are located. There are two main sources, existing companies, and third level graduates and trainees.
Our geographic location means that we can draw talent from Northern Ireland as well. People on both sides of the Border share educational, cultural and familial connections. That means Donegal is able to draw from a much larger talent pool than people might think. About 160,000 people live in the county but 400,000 live within an hour’s drive of Letterkenny.”
The education and training infrastructure in the region is also of the highest quality.
“The Institute of Technology in Letterkenny is about to become part of the Technological University (TU) for the West and North-West of Ireland,” says Martin.
“We also have excellent relationships with the Education and Training Board and Ulster University. Overall, we have about 20,000 graduates coming through the system every year. The institutions can also deliver bespoke programmes outside of the regular curriculum to meet the needs of industry in the area.”
“We place huge stock on education and the skills which will be required for industry and business in the future,” he adds. “We have a strong belief in education being the great equaliser. It will help ensure we don’t suffer from multi-generational unemployment again in the future.”
The establishment of remote working hubs across the county is part of the enabling infrastructure for future investment, he adds.
“We have better connectivity in Donegal than you can get in midtown Manhattan,” Martin points out.
“All of the main towns in Donegal have Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs) which are open to all providers and give them access to fibre. On top of that, we probably have a more extensive Eir fibre network than in most parts of the country. We have the Siro network as well.”
Leveraging that connectivity to create digital hubs and co-working spaces is a key element of the council’s enterprise development strategy.
“In very remote areas we may have a broadband connection in community hall,” he explains. “We can put a small office there with 10 to 12 seats. People can come in and access satellite or fibre broadband. This allows people to blend their working arrangements.”
Thanks to an investment by Three Ireland, Arranmore Island is now regarded as the most connected small island in the world.
“We know of a case of a person who had been living in Meath and commuting to Dublin every day,” says Martin. “They moved to Arranmore for the quality of life and connectivity when the shift to remote working happened.”
The council is also working with a partner from Northern Ireland to establish two co-working hubs in Letterkenny and Derry.
“We are also planning a number of co-working and remote working hubs under Project Ireland 2040. Our aim is to provide a location for potential second sites for Northern Ireland businesses dealing with Brexit. They might consider bilocating in the Republic of Ireland in order to continue to sell services into the EU.”
Inward investment attraction isn’t the only objective.
“Local authority investment in remote working hubs will help increase footfall in those towns. That will catalyse private investment and help create a more vibrant local economy. The presence of the centres will stimulate the growth of a good mixed economy in the towns and the county will not be exposed to the shocks of the past.”