Limerick, you’re a legend: The next step is optimal employment

15 May 2018

Limerick at sunset. Image: Patryk Kosmider/Shutterstock

Limerick has been playing the smart game on policy and now has a focus on optimal employment.

The Limerick of 2018 feels like it bears no resemblance to the city that was almost paralysed by the shock closure of Dell’s manufacturing plant, with the loss of 1,900 jobs in 2009.

Those were tough days for Ireland but, back then, it felt like the city and its surrounding region bore more than the fair share of the rough economic tides.

But that was then.

‘Collaboration and joined-up thinking characterise Limerick city and region’s new direction’

Today, the city and its surrounding regions are not only looking at full employment, they are focusing on what optimal employment could look like, said IDA Ireland’s mid-west Ireland manager, Enda McLoughlin.

As McLoughlin explains it, industry and the city and county’s leaders and neighbours have worked together to foster something unique.

A tech ecosystem like no other in Europe

Limerick, you’re a legend: The next step is optimal employment

IDA Ireland’s mid-west Ireland manager, Enda McLoughlin. Image: IDA Ireland

In a bold display of playing to the region’s strengths, Limerick is now a diverse powerhouse of technology, financial services, medical devices, automotive tech, internet of things, pharmaceuticals and more.

Combined, this coterie of tech and pharma companies comprise an ecosystem like no other in Europe.

Players include longstanding employers such as Analog Devices, Intel and Dell EMC as well as a new generation that has flocked to Limerick, including Kemp Technologies, WP Engine, Trusource Labs, First Data, ACI Payments, Stats and Casa Communications. Recent arrivals to the Limerick and Shannon region include Jaguar Land Rover, which is establishing a new global hub for software engineering, architecture and development.

Pharma and medical device players include Regeneron, Johnson & Johnson, Cook Medical, Stryker, Zimmer and, most recently, Edwards Lifesciences, which is about to build a facility in the mid-west that will employ 600 people.

And then there’s the start-up community and efforts to make both Limerick and nearby Shannon key hubs for sports and aviation technology.

“That broad diversity of companies is the key to Limerick,” said McLoughlin. “Because of the variety of industries from aviation to medtech, when it comes to recruiting staff, employers know they will be getting people who have had experience and exposure to different sectors.”

McLoughlin pointed out that there are more than 63 tech companies in Limerick, 12 of which have women founders.

Another aspect to Limerick and the wider mid-west region is the ethos of training and retraining.

“Initiatives such as Limerick for Engineering really highlight the level of collaboration between the educational bodies, including the University of Limerick, Limerick Institute of Technology, Mary Immaculate College, Limerick College of Further Education, and the Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board.

“Not only that, but the industries work closely with the education sector to make it possible to convert people who may have embarked on different careers into developers and coders, for example.

“General Motors has several hundred people in Limerick and it has programmes in place that can help convert people who in previous walks of life were chefs or plasterers, and turn them into software developers.”

A perfect example of the close ties between academia and industry is the cooperative programme in place at UL, whereby undergraduates in their third year will spend nine months working in-house at companies.

“This is the largest cooperative programme of its kind in Europe,” McLoughlin explained.

“For example, Northern Trust takes 30 students per year and as part of a nine-month programme, whereby they work with staff and do a final-year project and, when they graduate, there are options for a potential job with the company.

“GM work incredibly close with UL and Limerick IT to develop apprenticeship programmes. There is a growing focus on non-craft related apprenticeships.

“The level of collaboration between academia and industry is quite unique here.”

The mid-western growth engine

Another key aspect to Limerick and the mid-west’s rise to prominence as a go-to location for investment in Ireland is the catchment area, which includes commuters from neighbouring Kerry, Tipperary, Cork and Clare, not to mention the Shannon industrial zone, nearby port and airport.

“This extends to collaboration between Limerick, Kerry, Tipperary and Clare county councils.

“Having property and work-ready talent available is absolutely key.”

McLoughlin also pointed out that there are strong relationships between companies that could make Limerick a hub for the next generation of autonomous vehicles.

“Companies like Jaguar Land Rover, Intel, Analog and GM are all working in this area, and they have developed a symbiotic relationship.”

McLoughlin said that this could foster a potential automotive industry of the future. “The prevailing attitude is that if everyone does well, we all do well. Industry 4.0 and how to use the new technologies and processes lend themselves to other sectors, too, such as manufacturing and aviation.”

According to McLoughlin, various creative strategies are being devised to bring Limerick beyond full employment to optimal employment.

This is significant when you consider Limerick is Ireland’s third-largest city with 460,000 people living and working within a 60km radius.

“We are looking at ways to engage people who are underemployed, who may work from home or part-time in retail, to develop them and join companies in the region.

“Clare County Council has launched various digital hub initiatives and there is a drive by Innovate Limerick to link all of the digital hubs together. Clare County Council is also developing proper serviced offices connected with fibre in towns like Ennistymon, Feakle and Miltown Malbay to enable executives who wish to enjoy a different quality of life to remain engaged in their careers. This would be a proper working environment, not hassled by coaching or mentoring – you are working.”

Crucially, the economic downturn that hit Ireland hard in 2008, affecting the Limerick region and neighbouring counties, effectively created something new.

“It was a kind of wake-up call, and so many industry leaders and council and regional leaders put in the work and developed a broader, diverse ecosystem that embraced the diversity of industries from aviation to pharma, medtech and software.

“Innovate Limerick is all about linking all of the different entrepreneurial hubs in the city. Bank of Ireland’s Workbench is very beneficial to the city, as is Engine, an old library that the council bought and turned into a space for offices, and this is where WP Engine is based.”

Indeed, the landscape of the city is changing.

The centre of the city will be invigorated by the Gardens International project that will transform a 0.6-acre site at Limerick’s former GPO into a modern working environment.

In November, the European Investment Bank confirmed that it will commit €85m to the Opera Centre project to transform the heart of Limerick city. The Opera Centre is a four-acre site that will host three large commercial buildings, the largest of which will be 14 storeys tall.

In addition, Limerick Institute of Technology was last year granted planning permission to build its new €14m campus at Coonagh in north Limerick city that will form part of a “knowledge corridor” for the county.

At the nearby Shannon port, the Shannon Foynes Port Company (SFPC), has announced plans for an unprecedented expansion at its general cargo terminal, Foynes, adding more than two-thirds the size of its existing area. In the latest phase of a €64m investment programme launched three years ago, SFPC is to invest more than €20m in enabling works to convert 83 acres on the east side of the existing port into a landbank for marine-related industry, port-centric logistics and associated infrastructure.

“Ultimately, the key here is sustainability and everyone working together. Getting employment to its optimum point will involve industry and universities showing the flexibility that they have already shown.

“UL is one of the first to launch a master’s in data science. Limerick for Engineering, an initiative where industry explains careers in engineering to secondary students, is something that could be expanded nationwide. And, increasingly, students from all across Ireland see Limerick, with its close ties to employers, as a genuine option for education.”

McLoughlin said that the decision by Edwards Lifesciences to locate in the region was a particular stroke of good fortune.

“The recent Edwards Lifesciences announcement of 600 jobs was the largest single-bat jobs announcement in Ireland from day zero since Apple arrived in Cork in 1980.”

In conclusion, McLoughlin said that the merger of Limerick City Council with Limerick County Council was a real catalyst for change.

“Collaboration and joined-up thinking characterise the Limerick city and region’s new direction.”

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