The Western Development Commission (WDC) has reported a landmark year in 2023, highlighting its significant contributions to economic and social development across counties Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Mayo, Galway, and Clare. Key achievements include:
- Record-breaking equity and social finance investment exceeding €11 million, representing the highest level of investment in the WDC’s history.
- Securing an additional €11 million in EU funding for regional development, focusing on priority areas including the Circular Economy, Creative Economy, niche tourism, and SME innovation and digitization.
- The national success of ConnectedHubs.ie, with 336 hubs onboard, revolutionizing how businesses approach workspaces.
In a record-breaking year, the WDC has demonstrated its commitment to catalyzing economic growth by providing equity and social finance exceeding €11m to start-up and scaling companies, community and social enterprises and strategic initiatives, representing the highest level of investment in the agency’s history. This funding, strategically deployed in collaboration with companies seeking finance, involves the WDC taking a stake in these enterprises as they scale, with all funds reinvested across the region or providing repayable loan finance.
Notable 2023 investments include €500,000 in Peroptyx who are building a data-driven global technology company from Mayo, €1.5m in Xerotech who are focused on battery technology and industrial electrification from Claregalway, a €400,000 investment in Co.Clare based Hooke Bio who are developing a fully integrated high throughput screening system for 3D microtissues and €200,000 to Magamedia for the Obituary TV series filmed in Ballyshannon, Co Donegal.
Supporting community projects, the WDC provided low-interest loans, including €42,000 to Tisara Community Group in Roscommon, €66,000 to Burrishoole Community Partnership in Mayo, and €80,000 to Kilkee Waterworld in Co. Clare.
Emphasizing the importance of ongoing support, over 80% of the business investments in 2023 were follow-on investments, underscoring the WDC’s commitment to long-term partnerships.
Beyond financial investments, the WDC remains dedicated to development initiatives that have an impact across the region. In 2023, the agency secured a direct regional investment of €11.62 million over the next three years. This funding has been harnessed by the WDC from EU sources and it is intended that these initiatives will engage with over 1000 SME’s in priority areas like the Circular Economy, Creative Economy, niche tourism, and SME innovation and digitisation.
The Connected Hubs network, originally launched along the West of Ireland by the WDC, has emerged as a pivotal element of the government’s Our Rural Future Policy, surpassing expectations with 336 hubs nationwide. Widely recognized as a leading model in Europe, the WDC is now engaged in discussions with several countries interested in adopting Ireland’s successful approach. These hubs serve as a crucial support system for growing businesses, accommodating start-ups, scale-ups, and international companies seeking a flexible location without the burden of office overheads. Throughout 2023, the WDC implemented innovative projects to integrate the hubs as central community assets. Notably, the ‘Learning in the Hubs’ initiative facilitates students’ access to higher education from their local hub through a strategic partnership with the Technological University of Shannon.
As the exclusive state entity dedicated to promoting living, working, and relocating to the West of Ireland, the WDC spearheaded multiple initiatives throughout 2023. These efforts included the launch of their online ‘Local Living, Global Opportunities’ campaign, the successful second season of the TV show ‘Moving West’ on TG4, and a collaborative campaign with Connacht Rugby spotlighting the advantages of relocating to the West.
In a commitment to ongoing policy development, the WDC launched the Rural Mobility Index, creating a foundation for current mobility options, services, and infrastructure. This initiative, set to be replicated and expanded in 2024, aims to drive lasting change. Additionally, the WDC’s fourth Annual Remote Work survey, a testament to its influential role in shaping the future of work, remains a valuable contributor to insights at various levels of national government. Throughout the year, the WDC submitted key findings across critical areas such as regional airports, rail, EV charging, and Eirgrid, reinforcing its commitment to influencing strategic decisions.
Reviewing the year’s milestones and accomplishments, CEO Allan Mulrooney remarked
“Reflecting on 2023, our strategic investments underscore our commitment to fuel growth and innovation in the Western region and I commend our team for their hard work. Despite record investments, the challenge lies in the pipeline for new companies, particularly in the Northwest. Our development work utilizing EU funds and our ConnectedHubs network supported by our department DRCD impacted positively on SME’s and communities across the region. While these efforts contribute to the rejuvenation of creativity and entrepreneurship, many rural towns and villages across the region continue to grapple with exceedingly challenging situations”.
Addressing regional challenges, Mr. Mulrooney emphasized,
The WDC calls for greater urgency in delivering critical enabling infrastructure projects outlined in National Development Plans.
While the WDC stands ready to support and drive innovation, it is crucial to recognize the immediate necessity for a united effort to tackle foundational issues. The West and North West face a significant infrastructure deficit, particularly in energy infrastructure, our electricity network and transport network. This deficiency hinders our economic growth, investment appeal, and the region's ability to attract residents. It is imperative that we prioritize and expedite these projects to ensure equitable development and bring the West and North West up to par with the rest of the country.