Could your region be the next Silicon Valley or Hollywood?

11 Feb 2019550 Views

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A rich tapestry of possibilities is unfolding for Ireland’s mid-east region. Seize the day, urges John Kennedy.

Like most teenagers in Meath, I used to walk lap after lap of Navan Shopping Centre and stare curiously at the long-disappeared brass navigational tools and maps on display next to the famous maze, which has also been removed but lives on affectionately in memory.

Before Tommy Tiernan or Dylan Moran made people laugh, I used to think that the only famous things to have come out of the county and region were those navigational inventions of the chap who devised the Beaufort Scale as well as the Duke of Wellington (Napoleon’s nemesis), the poignant war poetry of Francis Ledwidge and the rolling prose of Jonathan Swift (who was not a native but had close connections with Trim). Oh, and the various concerts at Slane Castle. Unforgettable and legendary.

But the industrial legacy of places such as Meath, and Navan in particular, is forgotten even by the natives.

‘It’s about setting out an ongoing legacy and culture of enterprise development in the mid-east that revitalises and sustains our communities’
– EAMONN SINNOTT

Did you know that Navan Carpets was once a global brand? Did you know that in the late 1970s Navan had 45 furniture factories manufacturing and exporting to the world? For centuries, flour mills were powered by the River Boyne and the Crannac co-op was the longest running worker’s co-op in Ireland.

All of this, lost to time. There are towns all over Ireland that also offer signals to a once vibrant, industrial, artistic and skilled past – surely something can be rekindled?

Last week, something new began to stir as a compelling vision for the future of Ireland’s mid-east region comprising Meath, Kildare and Wicklow was unveiled in the form of an acronym called REP (Regional Enterprise Plan).

The Mid-East REP is the first of nine regional action plans that will be revealed by Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys, TD, in the coming weeks.

The first plan signals a bold future that takes in technology, digital entertainment, food, agritech and the creation of hubs that could yet employ thousands of people.

If you study the first action plan and follow the logic that the subsequent eight action plans will be equally chock-a-block with bold visions and ambition, you will also get the sense that a lot of things are happening on the ground all over the country, from co-working hubs to industrial policies driven by people who really care and believe in what is possible.

From Kells angels to Viking raiders

Things are happening in Meath, Kildare and Wicklow.

There are mounting reports that Intel is on the verge of investing in a major chip manufacturing operation in Leixlip that could create thousands of jobs. But did you know that Intel is now 30 years in Leixlip and, as well as providing a third of the Pentium processors worldwide at the height of the PC revolution, Intel’s Irish operations are understood to be currently producing around half of the company’s global supply of 14nm processors. This is the future of manufacturing. This is as cutting edge as technology gets. And it’s happening here.

Did you know that Wicklow has a vibrant film and TV production industry that today produces blockbuster TV shows such as Vikings? This builds on a legacy that extends back to Ardmore Studios being created in the late 1950s under the brilliant policy of Seán Lemass and the shooting of iconic movies such as the 1981 film Excalibur. Every production of shows such as Vikings means a plethora of economic opportunities for actors, writers, costume and set designers, armourers, carpenters, and blacksmiths, not to mention hundreds of extras. Even boat builders.

Behind the civil-servant speak of the first REP report is actually the fabled joined-up thinking we often lament is missing in this country.

Hinging on four core objectives with “game-changing” projects, the bold plan was summed up by Intel Ireland general manager and the chair of the Mid-East Steering Committee, Eamonn Sinnott, as being about “setting out an ongoing legacy and culture of enterprise development in the mid-east that revitalises and sustains our communities”.

Sinnott makes an interesting point. It is all about revitalisation and sustainability. It is also about enduring and thriving.

Mid-eastern promise

The mid-east region basically surrounds the capital city and county of Dublin. It is effectively Ireland’s commuter belt. Every day, more than 28,000 people from Kildare, more than 21,000 people from Meath and more than 19,000 from Wicklow commute to Dublin, according to figures from the new REP. All that time sitting in cars! Is it any wonder job site Indeed revealed that the number of Irish people searching for jobs using the term ‘remote working’ surged 171pc in 2017?

The Mid-East REP was launched at the new MERITS (Mid-East Regional Innovation Think Space) Hub in Naas that will house more than 60 workers. Last year Meath County Council opened the Kells Tech Hub, which was funded under the Rural Economic Development Zone (REDZ) initiative to enable start-ups and SMEs in the region to scale and go global.

There are four core objectives of the Mid-East REP:

  • In the next five years, the vision is to see 1,000 people working from 10 or more distributed flexible workspaces throughout the mid-east, no longer having to commute. I believe this is a conservative objective
  • A second objective is to develop the mid-east, and particularly Wicklow, as a hub for the screen content creation sector
  • A third objective is to build an ecosystem framework to support the agrifood sector in the Boyne Valley
  • The final objective is to guarantee the availability of skills and talent to realise the region’s economic potential long into the future

The first REP sets the tone for eight other regions, each with their own strengths and qualities, to drive to a balanced future where investment doesn’t always flow to the cities but to where the talent and entrepreneurs want to be.

The target for the mid-east is to grow employment by between 10pc and 15pc by 2020. And, even if a fraction of the three counties’ 68,000 daily commuters were able to work remotely or from a local co-working hub, that’s more money being spent in local shops and even more jobs being generated. It all adds up.

Can your region be the next Silicon Valley or Hollywood? In terms of scale, probably unlikely. But, just like the rise of Shenzhen or Bollywood, you can still create something unique that can capture the world’s imagination and attention.

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John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist who served as editor of Siliconrepublic.com for 17 years.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com