Digital media firms’ rapid growth challenges the Hub

11 Aug 2008

The rapid growth of digital media firms in the Digital Hub is creating a headache for the management agency responsible for the Liberties development and it has said the creation of new office space is paramount.

Announcing the Digital Hub Development Agency’s (DHDA) annual report this morning, chief executive, Philip Flynn revealed that the number of tenant organisations at the Dublin Hub have exceeded the 100-mark. Collectively, these companies employ over 750 people.

It also emerged that long-awaited planning permission – albeit for a more scaled-down development with less residential but the same amount of office and retail space – which was held up by appeals, has been given the go-ahead.

“Despite the current economic downturn, the digital media sector is in a very healthy state, and looks set to enjoy sustained growth over the coming years,” Flynn explained.

But supporting the pace of growth experienced by companies based at the Hub – including promising indigenous start-ups like PutPlace, as well as global dotcoms like Amazon – has presented a real challenge for the DHDA, he said.

“Because so many new companies chose to join the Digital Hub – and because a number of our existing tenant companies expanded considerably in size – we were presented with challenges in relation to providing the type of flexible office space and working conditions essential in the digital media sector.

“In addition to reaching 100 companies earlier this year, another important milestone for the Hub was achieved last week when the appeals to two revised planning applications, under review by An Bord Pleanála, were withdrawn.

“This means the development of a significant amount of office and community space can now proceed, and we can guarantee our companies that we will be able to continue to meet their needs as their businesses expand.”

Flynn said that the planning appeals system had presented specific challenges for the Digital Hub over the course of 2007, as the major property and infrastructure plans for the project were under appeal with An Bord Pleanála for almost the entire year and were ultimately refused in October.

The lack of a definitive timeframe for decision-making by An Bord Pleanála acts as a hindrance to the planning and delivery of all developments, including those of state agencies, he said.

Flynn said this is by no means the fault of An Bord Pleanála. “It is quite clear that the board is under-resourced and works under considerable pressures itself.

“However, this situation means that the work of important, publicly-funded projects can be hugely held up. If a set timeframe existed, whereby the board was obliged to revert to developers with its planning appeals decisions within a specified time, it would greatly assist state agencies, public projects and all concerned in making alternative arrangements or re-visiting planning applications to find new ways of meeting project needs.”

However, despite the delays with property development, Flynn said the Digital Hub is prospering.

“Significant developments in relation to foreign direct investment occurred at the Hub during 2007, with the addition of Gala Networks Europe and GOA Games Services, a division of France Telecom, to the enterprise cluster.

“Irish companies also enjoyed continued success, including Zamano, which expanded its operations through the acquisition of Red Circle Technologies,” Flynn said.

Recent research carried out at the Digital Hub shows that digital media companies have very specific characteristics, which will enable them to withstand the current economic downturn.

“The employees in Hub companies are very highly-skilled, and the companies typically operate in a flexible manner, allowing them to quickly respond to changing market needs at any given time. There are currently 750 high-value ‘knowledge’ employees working in the Digital Hub, and I am confident this number will continue to rise over the coming years,” Flynn added.

By John Kennedy

Pictured: the Digital Hub, Dublin

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years