How to unlock the economic potential of the Western Region
The Western Development Commission (WDC) has told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Employment, Trade and Innovation that an integrated approach to economic development in the West is vital if the region is to reach its potential. The presentation took place today, Tuesday October 5th.
“The West needs infrastructural and human capital investment if it is to successfully facilitate innovation and build on its key assets and strengths. We also need recognition at national level that the Western Region offers untapped potential to contribute significantly towards national economic recovery”, said Gillian Buckley, Acting CEO of the WDC.
The Committee heard that the key challenges facing the Western Region are the decline in construction and construction related jobs, the return of the brain drain and the growing need for education and training.
“These challenges are significant. However, there are also real opportunities for growth in the western economy”, stated Ms Buckley. “The WDC, in partnership with public, private and voluntary organisations works to bring those opportunities to fruition by developing coherent regional responses to the needs of the West at strategic and operational levels.”
Highlighting some of the growth opportunities, Ms Buckley referred to the green and creative economies. “Development of the renewable energy sector offers employment opportunities for former construction workers who have many of the skills required to work in the green sector”, she said. “Our research tells us that the creative sector already employs 11,000 in the region and also offers the potential for 2,000 additional jobs. The creative sector represents a particularly attractive opportunity as it drives innovation in the wider economy”, she added.
“The challenge to optimising opportunities within these indigenous sectors is to ensure that the education and training needs of job seekers are closely aligned to the employment and enterprise opportunities in the Western Region. The Region’s most important asset is its people and because of the economic downturn, it is more critical than ever that we continue to invest in our human capital”, she told the Committee.
Ms Buckley also spoke of the importance of venture capital (VC) to Ireland’s economic recovery as highlighted in the Government’s ‘Building Ireland’s Smart Economy Framework’. She said: “Access to finance is a major issue for Western SMEs with the Western Region receiving less than 10% of private sector VC funds. The WDC’s Western Investment Fund (WIF) addresses this market failure and to date has invested €36 million in 87 enterprises. This investment has leveraged an additional €130 million in private funding and has a job creation potential of 2,500 jobs.”
In 2010, exchequer funding for the WIF was significantly reduced and Ms Buckley reiterated the need to re-instate the budget to nurture enterprise development and jobs in the Western Economy.
The WDC also outlined the importance of sustained innovation as a core long term driver of economic growth. “Irish Innovation policy must support the broad concept of innovation which relates not only to new or improved products and processes but also to new ways of thinking, new marketing methodology and new forms of business organisation. Supporting and driving innovation in the assets and strengths of the Region will make a significant contribution to achieving national innovation objectives”, explained Ms Buckley.
Ms Buckley referred to OECD research which shows that if public policy supports the conditions for growth, regional economies can flourish. She advised that despite the current economic climate, investment in infrastructure and innovation and the ‘3Es’ of enterprise, employment and education must be maintained to drive regional and national growth.
Ms Buckley concluded: “An important objective of the WDC is to advance the Government’s policy of balanced regional development by providing a regional perspective on national policy. Having the opportunity to speak directly to the Joint Oireachtas Committee was a welcome opportunity to do that.”
For further information please contact:
Gillian Buckley, Acting CEO, Western Development Commission, 087 223 6982
Bernadette Mullarkey, Bane Mullarkey, 086 806 2540