Atlantic Corridor to wake up the West

21 May 2003

The Taoiseach Bertie Ahern TD is this week expected to unveil the Atlantic Technology Corridor, an ICT cluster of companies, infrastructure, enterprise and skills based between Shannon and Galway. The group aims to increase spending in the ICT sector in the region 50pc by 2006 as well as growing total jobs by 10pc every year.

According to sources, the Atlantic Technology Corridor consortium, led by Tellabs’ Pat Shanahan and Mike Conroy of Nortel, aims to develop infrastructure along the west coast of Ireland to compete effectively with that of Dublin and the east coast regions.

The consortium aims to drive infrastructure connecting Ennis, Shannon, Limerick, Gort and Galway and consists of indigenous and multinational employers in the region, including Dell, the University of Limerick, Enterasys, Modus Media, Tellabs, Analog Devices, Ennis Information Age Town, APC, Nortel, Siebel and Hewlett-Packard.

The group is understood to have been driven by increased perception of a regional imbalance in the deployment of infrastructure and foreign direct investment (FDI) to the western region and is banding together to establish public private partnerships (PPPs) to develop road, rail, air and communications infrastructure. In addition, the group wants to turn the region into a cluster of enterprises that work together to ensure supply of skilled workers and collaboration with local universities and educational institutions. Another facet of the Corridor will be to establish linkages between various companies to boost the potency of their offerings to local multinationals and for overseas export.

The Corridor aims to provide broadband access to all enterprises in the region at an equivalent cost to Dublin in terms of ADSL, Wi-Fi and 2.5G/3G rollout. The plan is to grow total bandwidth available for use in the area ten-fold by 2006 and by the same deadline reduce the cost of network access by 50pc. Across the region, the plan is to boost internet hosts per 1,000 of population 10-fold by 2006 and reduce journey times to Shannon Airport by 50pc.

The ambitious targets come in the face of stinging criticism by local management at multinationals in the region, particularly from Dell. The complaints include the fact that it takes produce almost three days to get to mainland Europe and that competitiveness costs are increasing across the board. In recent weeks Dell moved a key logistics operation to Holland to get closer to its European market.

In terms of collaborations with local universities, the Corridor will foster a virtual centre of excellence for research and learning in ICT through cross-region academic partnerships with Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), the EU and Enterprise Ireland. Through this, the corridor aims to grow research and development as a percentage of average company turnover by 20pc by 2006. Another aspect will be new postgraduate programmes in ICT and technology management as well as open learning and lifelong learning for adults under the Atlantic University Alliance, with a view to growing the number of ICT graduates by 5pc every year and double the number of R&D researchers by 15pc. The overall aim is to grow the total number of jobs in the Atlantic Corridor by 10pc every year going forward.

Fundamental to the fostering of networks and clusters will be better interaction between companies on the ground and their multinational counterparts and grow total ICT spend in the Corridor by 50pc by 2006 and grow transactions between hi-tech companies in the region by 20pc per annum.

Brendan Butler, director of ICT Ireland, an IBEC lobby group representing the industry in Ireland, told that he welcomed the initiative as a clear example of “industry solving its own problems”.

He said: “In the rising spate of government cutbacks in infrastructure, it is a prime example of industry leading by example and igniting progress in the western region”.

By John Kennedy