Distance no obstacle for Kerry

29 May 2003

As the furthest major county town from the capital, Tralee in Kerry has perhaps the most to gain from internet technology. Some 187 miles from Dublin, 75 from Cork and 65 from Limerick — along roads that aren’t all they could be — there’s ample scope for getting the most out of fibre optics.

And much of that potential is being realised. Two years ago, Kerry County Council was chosen as one of four large local authorities to pilot e-procurement initiatives. Since then, the council’s use of the etenders.ie public tenders site has saved it between €80,000 and €100,000 on print ads. The council’s homepage at www.kerrycoco.ie is detailed without being messy, and while a uniform look and feel is not maintained through its disparate elements, there are some very useful features. You can drill down through planning applications, view the schedule of county development board maps and planned roadworks for the year, as well as access the Reach portal and a raft of local authority reports. You can also get into the county library’s online catalogue, another excellent feature offered by 12 of the country’s county libraries. The county library is also one of the few which has its own dedicated website — www.kerrycolib.ie — independent of the county council site. While it’s mostly information, the library catalogue itself is a great deal more.

“Our catalogue may be accessed from home,” says Tommy O’Connor, IT manager at the library, “and people may view or renew their books or access details about their library membership from their home computers using a combination of their library card and an individual PIN number.”

There is, of course, free internet and email access available at the library, and in another progressive and unusual step, free training is provided one day a week on internet and email use.

Despite the fact that Tralee has seen no substantial IDA investment in recent years, the spending power of tourists and students is keeping things turning over through the economic downturn. The Tralee Chamber of Commerce has estimated that the Rose of Tralee Festival alone generates economic activity equivalent to a factory employing 500 people, and when the tourists go home for the winter, the students take over. The Institute of Technology Tralee (ITT) also hosts one of the town’s biggest success stories of recent years. Shannon Development’s Kerry Technology Park opened its gates in July 2001 and is currently home to 16 companies employing between five and 35 people. Its 26,000sq ft incubator building is now full of Irish start-ups and a second building is 75pc occupied. Development manager of the park, Marie Lynch, says the vast majority of the entrepreneurs are ITT graduates who’ve returned home having secured experience elsewhere, and despite the meltdown in the information and communications technology industry, the park continues to grow. Lynch puts its success down to three things: “First of all it’s the facilities, secondly it’s working jointly with the ITT and having access to graduates, lecturers and so on, and finally, it’s that people just like to live in Kerry.”

Henry Lyons, head of development with ITT, says that the conjoined evolution of park and college was based on Plassey Park in Limerick, though a development of this sort is a first for an institute of technology. Courses such as the business studies degree in e-business have been developed in conjunction with firms in the park, meaning graduates take their work placements in park companies while lecturers serve as advisers and consultants to firms in the park’s innovation centre. Genesis, a graduate enterprise programme aimed at young entrepreneurs, has spawned several successful companies. “For one year they’re supported financially,” says Lyons. “They get up to 50pc of their previous year’s earnings. They’re given accommodation, internet access, filing cabinets, mentoring and a fair amount of tuition on business development, cash flow and marketing. It has been running for five years and it has been very successful.”

E-learning company Pulse Learning, together with software companies Mindstet and DTM, are examples of recent success stories.

The technology park’s anchor tenant, however, is Stockbyte, run by DHL Exporter of the Year, Jerry Kennelly (pictured). The company sells royalty-free digital images to companies all over the world. “We’ve managed to grow the business by 50pc in the last year despite the downturn,” says Kennelly. “I think it’s all about continuing to be clever and creative, and meeting and exceeding customer expectations.”

He has high praise for Shannon Development’s work in helping to get the company off the ground. Despite the fact that Stockbyte was offering a highly specialised and unusual product, the agency bought into Kennelly’s vision from the outset. Today, the facilities at Kerry Technology Park allow the company to maintain a widely dispersed customer base. “We run a global company,” says Kennelly. “We’re 97pc exports and, using technology, we’ve managed to make our location in Tralee pretty much irrelevant. More than half of our sales constitutes e-commerce. The elements that matter for us are clever use of technology, creativity and dynamism and they can be located just as easily in Tralee as anywhere else.”

By John Hearne