As the year draws to a close, despite the challenges there is much to celebrate in the West where there is ‘More To Life’. This brief overview of the work of the WDC in 2021 highlights a TV programme on Moving West, the development of ideas and investment in companies tackling some of society’s biggest challenges, lending to communities across the west and incisive policy analysis during a year of significant change and disruption.

The ongoing shift to working remotely meant that, again this year, much of our work in that area was fast-tracked. The findings of the second National Remote Work Survey, published in May showed that a remarkable 95% of those surveyed were in favour of working remotely. This year also saw the launch of the National Hubs Network – connectedhubs.ie. This nationwide network of connected, digital, enterprise, scaling and community hubs grew out of the Atlantic Economic Corridor Hubs Network.

There are now more than 170 hubs on the connectedhubs.ie platform and this is expected to grow in the early stages of 2022. Our connected hubs team are working with hub managers across the country to build relationships with public and private partnerships to take the project to the next phase in 2022. The connectedhubs.ie network is a key part of Our Rural Future strategy launched by the Minister for Rural and Community Development Heather Humphreys. Under the strategy the Minister has already launched an initial €5m connectedhubs.ie fund followed €8.8m to help develop hubs around the country.

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This network of rural, regional and urban hubs is located across the country as shown on this map:

Establishing the connectedhubs.ie network and platform is the first step, but the most exiting aspect of this project is the scope for innovation that follows. An example is the award-winning Clare Island EHealth initiative in association with the community on the County Mayo island, with CISCO, the HSE, NUI Galway, the Department of Community and Rural Development and Mayo County Council. This is an example of one of a number of similar initiatives along the Atlantic coast which will be launched throughout 2022.

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This year the WDC Investment Fund approved more than €9m in investment and lending into the western region. This reflects the impact of the fund over its twenty-year lifetime in generating a pipeline of investment in the region, bringing bold ideas to life. Highlights during 2021 include investments in Atlantic Therapeutics, Sligo based Nektar Technologies, the acquisition in May of Roscommon based Fincovi, and investments in Galway based companies Locker, Tympany Medical and Palliare among others. In November Donegal based Content Llama, Ireland’s leading content configuration technology (CCT) platform raised €2.5m with the WDC among its investors.

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The WDC welcomed the publication of the Government’s ‘Our Rural Future Strategy’. This reflected the opportunities and challenges of rural life, reflected in policy work in areas such as the National Development Plan, economic indicators and the impact of the pandemic and rural mobility as part of the broader transition to a low carbon economy. This year also saw the publication of a report on renewables and grid infrastructure and the development of a ‘Region of Innovation’. This builds on the acknowledged potential of the National Hubs Network as sources of economic activity and innovation reflected in the visit of An Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar in a visit to the Ballinasloe Enterprise Centre in July as part of the ‘Making Remote Work’ campaign.

Scaling ideas remains a focus within the region, and INTERREG bridge funding was allocated to further develop existing projects in areas such as literary tourism, online mentoring and the use of renewables. Among these projects, literary tourism project SPOT-LIT was highlighted at the annual NPA conference in Sligo. We are working in partnership with Enterprise Ireland and other funders and agencies across the region in the Creative Economy project, GrowRemote a social enterprise seeking to build sustainable communities through remote working and the Future Mobility Campus Ireland, a testbed for autonomous vehicles on land, sea and air in Shannon, Co. Clare which hosted the Electronomous international conference in November.

As we close the year, we have launched the ‘No Place Like Home’ campaign to encourage those that come home or come to visit, to stay in the west. This builds on the launch earlier this year of westernjobs.ie to allow people to signal their intent to take up a role in the west, and to allow employers to highlight the many roles at all levels, in all sectors that are currently available. A snapshot of the life that awaits those that move was captured on TG4 earlier this year with the broadcast of ‘Moving West’, a six-part series telling the stories of those that have made the move to Mayo, Clare, Galway, Kerry, Leitrim and Sligo.

This is a summary of the work of the team across the WDC during 2021. 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 2022 and beyond.

Is cúis mhór bród domsa, mar phríomhfheidhmeannach, obair fhoireann Choimisiún Forbartha an Iarthair. Guím Nollaig Shona oraibh ar fad agus gach rath oraibh do 2022.

Tomás Ó Síocháin,

CEO, Western Development Commission

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