Promoting investment in emerging technologies has been identified as the central aim of a new plan to boost the economy of counties along the western seaboard. The plans are contained in a new five year strategy from the Western Development Commission (WDC), titled ‘Work Smarter, Live Better’.
The plan identifies a number of headings under which regional development goals can be achieved, including a new multi million euro fund to provide equity and lending to start up businesses. A total of €48 million is being made available to support new companies, as well as providing loans for community development projects.
The policy will be particularly focused on technology businesses which the WDC says will have the potential to “develop a global niche”. Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland on April 15th, Tomás Ó Síocháin, CEO of the WDC, said the strategy builds on two decades of experience around investment in the region.
“It’s notable now that the shift towards the regions is a reality. If you look at the Chambers and how they have come together to form the City Regions Group. Ireland 2040 has established the Atlantic Economic Corridor, building on the work of the WDC over 20 years.”
The WDC says its strategy can ensure balanced regional development and play a significant role the the move to a low carbon economy, by encouraging sustainable investment and reducing commutes for those living and working in the west.
He said the move was being underpinned by greater investment in the region.
“We were originally – under statute – given €32 million to invest where there was market failure as venture capital. It’s not grant aid, but it’s to work with companies to help them grow.
“Through the management and the work of the investment team, that has grown to €72 million. That’s given us €50 million to invest in companies and lend to communities. We’re going to take a 10 year view and identify one or two sectors where we make a difference in the Western region.”
Much of the development of the commercial landscape in the West will hinge on the availability of broadband in the region and the rollout of the long-awaited National Broadband Plan.
However the Commission is also planning to link a network of existing digital hubs in rural communities. These have been set up in many towns in recent years, as a way to help address the lack of widespread high speed internet access.
“What we can do is to address the issues of access. For those who don’t have access at home, we can identify, at a reasonable cost, a hub where they can get access. It also means that those working abroad are in a position to see that there is fibre enabled broadband and that they can have the same working conditions that they are currently used to,” Mr Ó Síocháin explained.
“They can see that they can move West, take advantage of the better quality of life and join us in making a dramatic change in the future of the West.”
The strategy will also see the investment of €1 million from the Dormant Accounts Fund in the process of linking digital hubs from the north to south of the country.
“The fund will help raise the profile of the hubs, the work they do and a build a single online point of access for public, private and community hubs along the Atlantic coast.
“It will also help Centre Managers to grow the business, learn from each other, offer clear routes to further supports and, in the longer term, build a pipeline of innovation in communities.”