As the year draws to a close, I wanted to highlight, despite the huge challenges of 2020, some of the progress made this year in highlighting the many opportunities the west has to offer. The shift to working remotely meant that much of our work in that area was fast-tracked. Further detail of the more than 100 hubs along the Atlantic Economic Corridor is included below, informed by the data gathered from more than 10,000 people who responded to our national surveys on Remote Work in conjunction with NUI Galway.
In August we launched a new brand identity and website westerndevelopment.ie with the aim communicating the work we do and the impact it is having on the western region. Soon after this we launched our ‘More To Life’ campaign which highlights the benefits of living, working and investing the region. The call to action is that the West of Ireland can seize the opportunity to renew itself by attracting thousands of young professionals and families to make new lives in the region.
To help business tell their story at home and abroad, we have a new online platform called the ‘Image Bank’ which will host high quality free to use images to promote living, working and investing in the west of Ireland. Sligo was chosen as the initial pilot for the Image Bank with Donegal and Leitrim due to launch in January 2021, followed by Galway, Mayo, Roscommon, Clare, Kerry and Limerick. To give others a chance to hear their story, and a sense of the west as leaders in innovation and development we launched a podcast series called ‘Pulse of the West’, covering remote working, business investment and scaling and the transition to a Low Carbon Economy.
Minister Heather Humphreys launched the WDC report on the impact of the transition to a low carbon economy for rural dwellers, and the recommendations identified are among the focus areas for our policy team in 2021, along with timely economic indicators across the region. Our focus on the Creative Economy continues, with the WRAP fund supporting film and TV production in the region and helping to build the next generation of games and animation drawing on the CREW network of creative hubs across the west in partnership with GMIT and Galway Film Centre.
Scaling ideas remains an ongoing focus; developing early ideas through EU funds and other areas in literary tourism, online mentoring, the use of renewables and SME development. We are working in partnership with Enterprise Ireland and other funders through the CREW project mentioned above, GrowRemote to build communities through remote working and the Future Mobility Campus Ireland, a testbed for autonomous vehicles in Shannon, Co. Clare.
Developing these ideas will ultimately create more opportunities to invest through our investment fund. Despite the global pandemic, 2020 was again a record year for investment. Our strategy has a clear long-term focus to broaden the opportunity for, and pipeline of, investment, across the region and particularly in the north west. Work continues with other partners to identify the best sector or sectors to achieve this, through cutting edge innovation, but also working with existing small and family business to embrace new ways of working.
The Atlantic Economic Corridor (AEC) project, as set out in Ireland 2040, seeks to build a region of scale in the next 20 years. To do that in a sustainable way, the key building block will be resilient communities. We are working with other funders, lending to those communities to begin to build the necessary infrastructure to support and sustain them in a constantly changing environment. The AEC hubs project will bring employment, opportunity and economic activity to the heart of those towns and villages. 2020 saw, to that end:
• The mapping of 114 hubs along the AEC, soon to be highlighted through a national marketing campaign to promote the benefits and uses of hubs and drive users to the facilities
• The development of a new classification system for hubs and the procurement of a hubs booking system which will be delivered in early 2021
• 65 hubs funded in the network through Hub Outreach Scheme to help hubs reopen during Covid. Raising the standards of health and safety and technology in those facilities.
• The completion of a Hubs Strategy which will be launched in January 2021 and working with the DRCD and other stakeholders to grow the AEC network to a national network.
This work would not be possible without the support of our colleagues in the Department of Rural and Community Development and other key stakeholders in the public and private sector at local, regional, national and EU level. Our public representatives continue to inform this work through their constant contact with the needs and ambition of communities, and we look forward to working with all through 2021 and beyond.
Is cúis mhór bród domsa, mar phríomhfheidhmeannach, obair fhoireann Choimisiún Forbartha an Iarthair. Guím gach rath orthu agus ortsa do 2021, tráth, tá súil agam, go mbeidh an pandéim ag meath agus go mbeidh obair an Choimisiúin ag treisiú chun leasa phobail uile chósta iarthair na tíre.
Idir an dá linn, bíodh Nollaig Shona, shuaimhneach agat.
Tomás Ó Síocháin
CEO, Western Development Commission