I propose to take Questions Nos. 289 to 291, inclusive, together.
Following the closure of the Talk Talk Call Centre, I initiated the South East Action Plan and established the South East Forum to drive implementation of that Plan, in late 2011. My Department engages with the key State players on the Forum to monitor developments on the detailed actions set out in the Plan, and I myself have held a number of meetings with the Forum. In addition, I have asked the Forum to look at the measures recommended in the recent Oireachtas Committee Report on the region, as part of its ongoing work.
Significant progress on job creation has been made, including the establishment of the new Call Centre operation, Eistech, supported by Enterprise Ireland, which now employs more staff than previously worked for Talk Talk in the city. There have been several other job creation initiatives for the region as a result of the work of Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland including projects by Glanbia, Nypro, Feedhenry, Dawn Meats and Danone.
Other enterprise support initiatives have been developed to support new start-ups, graduate placements and research projects. It is heartening that data from the Central Statistics Office has confirmed that, in 2013, an additional 15,000 jobs have been created in the region, resulting in the unemployment rate having dropped from 18.8% to 15.5%, which, while of course is unacceptably high, represents solid progress. In Waterford itself, the number of people on the Live Register has decreased steadily over the past two years and is down 3,000 from its peak in 2010.
Specifically in the case of IDA Ireland, the agency informs me that site visits by potential investors are one of the key means to sell a regional location and gives both IDA Ireland and local stakeholders an opportunity to showcase the region. In this respect, I am glad to say that in the two year period since the establishment of the South East Action Plan the number of site visits to Waterford has almost doubled to 40 for the period 2012 / 2013, as opposed to 22 for the period 2010/ 2011. The availability of suitable property solutions is also very important for potential clients and the construction of IDA Ireland’s new 2,438 sq. m. advanced technology building at IDA Ireland’s Technology Park, Waterford will be a strong attractor for the region. As over 65% of IDA Ireland’s business comes from its existing client portfolio, the agency works constantly with its existing portfolio of client companies in the area encouraging them to embed and grow their businesses. Examples of the success of this strategy have been the Investment announcements by Nypro and Sanofi during 2013.
I understand from IDA Ireland that its clients decisions on where to locate are down to how well a particular location meets the company needs and are usually based on a strong cluster of industries in their sector, eg medical technologies in Galway and Pharmaceuticals in Cork, a strong skill base and the availability of suitable property solutions. To enhance the attraction of Waterford as an investment location, IDA Ireland has rolled out a dedicated digital marketing initiative for inward investment focusing on the South East Region and Waterford (Connect and Invest Waterford). IDA believes that this initiative will enhance the marketability of Waterford for investment at a very early stage in a prospective client’s decision making process.
In an effort to attract and support investment and enterprise development in regional locations, the Action Plan for Jobs 2014 includes a commitment to develop a framework for a Regional Enterprise Strategy to better integrate the efforts of the enterprise development agencies and other regional stakeholders in supporting enterprises. My intention is that the framework will be developed on a pilot basis initially, focusing on the Midlands region, and involving the agencies under the remit of my own Department – Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and the Local Enterprise Offices. The objective is to enhance synergies between the agencies and their client companies and build on the competitive strengths of the region to maximise the potential for job creation. The role which other public bodies in the region can play in working towards this objective will also be examined as the project develops. The aim is that this framework will serve as a model for other regions of the country.