Western Development Commission 2008 End of year statement

In its end of year statement published today, Monday 22nd December 2008, the Western Development Commission (WDC) has said that the Western Region should be positioned as an International Energy Centre, serving the energy needs of the entire island of Ireland and beyond.

Gillian Buckley CEO said; “This year, the WDC identified the potential of The Western Region’s natural resources of ocean, wind, and wood energy. Our research shows that these sectors present enormous opportunities. If the Western Region’s renewable energy resources are developed to their full potential it would provide the country with security of energy supply. This would be a complete turnaround of the current situation where Ireland has, at 90%, one of the highest dependencies on imported fossil fuel.”

She added, “The Western Region has unique advantages because of its coastal location, and these natural resources and advantages cannot be replicated by other regions in Ireland. This is one of the aspects that makes the Western Region unique, and one that the region should capitalise on for its own and the nation’s benefit.”

The WDC has also called for public and private investment in order to position the region to exploit its distinctiveness and natural advantages. It says that as well as generating renewable energy, the region can also develop and manufacture the technologies to harness the energy. This will create employment opportunities to counteract the recent decline in all sectors, especially construction and manufacturing.

Ms Buckley explained that Ireland has the second best wind resource in Europe and most of the best wind power sites are located in the western counties. She said that the wave and tidal energy off the west coast has the potential to position Ireland as an exporter of energy, while wood biomass also offers significant opportunities as the region has 40% of the country’s afforestated lands.

She added, “The WDC has developed a regional strategy to develop the wood biomass sector which we will implement in partnership with state and private partners in 2009. Developing this sector will lead to the creation of 900 jobs, the vast majority of them in rural areas. It will reduce CO2 emissions by over 600,000 tonnes, the equivalent of taking 92,000 cars off our roads. Developing the strategy is a good example of the WDC’s collaborative approach to coordinated regional development.”

Balanced Regional Development

Ms Buckley said, “Our conference on Balanced Regional Development in May highlighted the issues involved in delivering balanced regional development with senior policy makers, academics, and business and regional leaders. The conference heard that the Western Region not only has the potential to contribute to the national economy in line with Government policy as set out in the National Spatial Strategy and the National Development Plan, but that with the right investment the region can become one of the leading regions in the world with high quality employment opportunities. The WDC also points out that, among OECD counties, regions, similar to the Western Region, are now recognised as focal points for economic development.

Need for sustained western regional focus

The original rationale for the establishment of the WDC in 1997 was the intense public pressure and concern at the long period of economic and social decline in the western counties. Ms Buckley said that despite the solid progress in the region over the last ten years, the disparity between the Western Region and other regions continue to exist, and sustained focus on the region remains a requirement.

“We conducted research early in 2008 that showed that 43% of people surveyed in the Greater Dublin Area believe that the economic gap between East and West had widened in the past five years, so our work is as important now as it was when we were established.”

“There is no doubt that we are now operating in a difficult economic environment. CSO figures for the Western Region show a 65% increase in the number of people on the live register in the 12 month period to November 2008. Traditionally, the construction sector has been more important to employment in the Western Region than in the rest of the State, so its

decline presents a significant challenge particularly for rural areas. Now, more than ever, our work in promoting economic and social development is needed,” she added.

She also stressed the need for continued investment in infrastructure, and says that such investment will facilitate the movement of people and goods which is essential to support jobs and enterprise. It would also have major positive implications for the cost competitiveness of the Western Region, helping to ensure that the viability of enterprises currently located in the region, whilst also enhancing its attractiveness to inward investment.

Seed capital for early stage high growth companies

Ms Buckley said that the WDC Investment Fund continues to fulfil a distinctive role in funding businesses, community initiatives and ‘flagship’ projects in the region by providing seed and venture capital or loans to sustainable projects which are experiencing a funding gap.

“We seek a financial return on our investments, together with a social dividend such as enhancing quality of life and providing employment. Risk capital funding is essential if we are to develop knowledge economy enterprises in the Western Region. To date the WDC Investment Fund has supported 80 enterprises which employ over 1,200 people in the region and it remains a vital source of capital for early stage, high growth potential companies,” Ms Buckley added.

Creative Sector

“Other unique factors of the Western Region include our landscape, quality of life and our heritage. These give us a competitive advantage to position the West as a Creative Region which will attract top talent, drive innovation and enterprise in the wider economy and support tourism. We are devising a strategy for the region’s creative economy in conjunction with regional businesses and a highlevel industry advisory group. Enterprises in the creative economy sector include architecture, art, crafts, design, film, software, music, performing arts, television and radio. Our research shows that there are already 4,700 enterprises in the creative sector directly employing over 11,000 people in the Western Region. The strategy is very timely as 2009 is the European Year of Creativity and Innovation.”

LookWest.ie

2008 has been the busiest year yet for the LookWest.ie campaign, which forms part of the WDC’s work to attract enterprises and individuals to the region. From January to December, almost 150,000 people have visited the website for information to help them make their decision to move west. This is a 15% increase on 2007 figures.

“An important element to the success of this year’s campaign was the WDC working in partnership with the region’s local authorities to communicate the benefits and advantages of

the region, not just for individuals to move here for employment opportunities, but, even more

importantly for business owners to see the region as a really attractive location for business,”

Ms Buckley concluded.

Ends

For further information please contact:

Gillian Buckley, Western Development Commission, 087 223 6982 or Angela Bane, Bane Mullarkey, 087 286 5217